NFL Nation: Dane Looker
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
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?
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.
|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
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says some Cardinals players supported Anquan Boldin's decision to change agents. Karlos Dansby said Boldin's reputation had taken a hit. Kurt Warner: "We understand public perception is a huge part of our business. But oftentimes, that public perception is wrong. You can't go out and dispute it all the time, but just thinking about a guy like 'Q,' the guy does everything right. He busts his butt, he's here every day, he's a great leader for us, and he just wants to be compensated fairly for what he's accomplished and what he brings to the table. None of us fault him for that. There's no way in our book that he should ever have a bad reputation because of that."
Alex Marvez of foxsports.com says he expects Boldin to hire agents Tom Condon and Ben Dogra to replace Drew Rosenhaus. That is also my expectation, based on what other agents are saying, but expectations change quickly in the agent game. Boldin cannot hire another agent before Thursday. Nothing can become official before then.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams remain interested in re-signing cornerback Jason Craft. Other notes from his chat: The team does not appear likely to re-sign receiver Dane Looker; re-signing Oshiomogho Atogwe before the season is a priority; James Laurinaitis was the choice over Rey Maualuga in part because they saw the latter as a two-down player; and cornerback Tye Hill has looked better during organized team activities.
Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com looks for and finds signs of progress from Marc Bulger. Klutsarits: "I don't believe we will see Bulger with his shoulders slumped on the sidelines this year. I don't believe we will see Bulger roll his eyes at the head coach on the sidelines this season. I do believe we are starting to see signs that the real Marc Bulger is going to stand up and be counted in 2009."
VanRam of Turf Show Times takes a quick look at the Rams' situation at receiver.
John Morgan of Field Gulls renews criticism of Seahwaks safety Brian Russell and how the team has used him. This is a two-parter. Second part here. Signing Russell was in direct response to the long touchdown passes Seattle allowed routinely before his arrival. Morgan: "He's neither a sure enough tackler nor fast enough to break on the pass to limit long completions. He can at best limit very long completions. He won't contribute stopping the run the way a Tampa 2 safety must. I don't see why, even with the built-in cushion, teams would not challenge him deep. He's not fast, he's not a hard hitter and he hasn't shown an ability to get the jump ball. He's the right profile but the wrong talent for a scheme that probably won't work."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation sizes up the 49ers' situation at receiver. He gives Arnaz Battle or Dominique Zeigler a chance at earning a roster spot if the 49ers keep six this season. Here's how many receivers the 49ers have kept on their opening-day rosters over the previous six seasons: five in 2008, six in 2007, five in 2006, seven in 2005, six in 2004 and six in 2003. Injuries tend to shape decisions at this position. That was certainly the case in the NFC West last summer. Bryant Johnson (hamstring) and Ashley Lelie (calf) missed time at 49ers camp last season, affecting their futures with the team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams could conceivably part with every one of their unrestricted free agents this offseason.
They will try to re-sign cornerback Ron Bartell. They could bring back a few others. But when a new front office and new coaching staff inherit a team with five victories over two seasons, serious roster trimming tends to ensue.
The chart ranks the Rams' scheduled unrestricted free agents from oldest to youngest, with ages rounded down to the tenth. Four are at least 33 years old. Four more are at least 30. Two more -- Travis Minor and Brett Romberg -- turn 30 during the 2009 season.
Bartell is clearly the Rams' most attractive UFA candidate. His case is a tough one for the Rams.
While the team would like to retain its best young talent, the coaching staff doesn't know Bartell well enough to make informed judgments about his longterm potential. And with the market for cornerbacks drying up, Bartell might command a significant contract on the open market.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Marco from Las Cruces writes: I have seen it mentioned before, but do you have any numbers on the NFC West teams and their salary cap space going into next season?
Mike Sando: A month has passed since Marco dropped that question into the NFC West mailbag. The Cardinals' deeper-than-expected run through the NFL playoffs accounted for some of the delay in responding, but mostly I wanted to provide an answer with meaningful context. We are now in position to do that.
The first thing to understand is that an NFL team's salary-cap space usually doesn't reflect how much money the team has to spend in free agency. As counterintuitive as that sounds, it's true -- and that's why "cap space" is overrated in attempting to gauge a team's options.
Think of your personal finances. Having $5,000 in a checking account may or may not mean you can afford that $2,500 plasma television. You might have automatic deductions for a mortgage and car payments looming. You might have a paycheck on the way. You might have all of these transactions to consider, which makes that $5,000 balance meaningless on its own.
Back to the NFC West.
Let's start our salary-cap exercise with the Cardinals.
The latest internal NFL data shows Arizona with about $40 million in salary-cap space three weeks before free agency. That is the highest figure in the league.
But what does that mean?
In theory, the Cardinals could sign Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and their own free agents, including quarterback Kurt Warner, without using that much cap space.
We could deduce as much from considering the 2009 salary-cap charges associated with the highest-paid players at defensive end (Jared Allen, $11.45 million) and defensive tackle (Tommie Harris, $9.1 million) while assuming Warner's new deal might count about $10 million against the cap.
But the reality is much different.
The Cardinals have fewer than 40 players signed for 2009, meaning millions more will vanish when they fill out their roster. Some of that cap space will go toward signing draft choices.
Once the Cardinals account for other cap charges -- incentives from 2008, salary escalators for 2009 and future miscellaneous expenses relating to various reserve lists -- their functional cap space figures to stand between $20 million and $25 million heading into free agency.
Even that figure is a bit optimistic.
Re-signing their own free agents, notably Warner and linebacker Karlos Dansby, could require more than $15 million in cap space.
The Cardinals would still have enough left over to pursue a high-profile free agent, but an aggressive approach to the market could require trade-offs.
With that, we take a comprehensive look at where NFC West teams stand in relation to the salary cap:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will have a hard time retaining Jim Haslett as coach given the team's struggles. Potential candidates: Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Cardinals assistant head coach and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, Titans offensive line coach Mike Munchak, Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe has at least one takeaway in seven of his last 10 games. Atogwe is responsible for 10 of the Rams' 17 takeaways this season.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains why the Rams are benching Corey Chavous in favor of Todd Johnson. Age is one factor. Johnson also played relatively well against the Cardinals in Week 14, according to Haslett.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Rams receiver Dane Looker is the emergency kicker while Josh Brown rests a groin injury.Also from Korte: Chavous declined comment following his job loss.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin points to improved conditioning and more creative play calling as reasons for his success this season.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says 49ers tight end Vernon Davis could play a role in blocking Dolphins pass-rusher Joey Porter.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with Franklin and linebacker Patrick Willis, key players in the 49ers' defense. Willis thinks he has improved since last season even though his stats aren't as prolific.
Also from Maiocco: NFL rules prevent teams from signing interim coaches to long-term deals until after the season. They 49ers cannot hire Mike Singletary before Dec. 29.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat explains why 49ers coach Singletary carries around a black book with gold leafing on the pages. Singletary has been a prolific note taker since his retirement from the NFL in 1993.
Also from Cohn: A transcript of his conversation with Singletary.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee doesn't understand why the Dolphins and other teams have had success with the Wildcat offense.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the Dolphins' Ronnie Brown has 47 carries for 249 yards from the Wildcat this season. Singletary credits the Dolphins' coaches. Also, the 49ers' confirmed that offensive coordinator Mike Martz is no longer a candidate for the San Diego State coaching job.
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic explains how Cardinals pass-rusher Bert Berry became an advocate for children. His wife overcame leukemia when both were in middle school.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Vikings' Adrian Peterson expected the Cardinals to draft him.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com explains why the Cardinals drafted Levi Brown instead of Peterson. Coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted to build a strong offensive line. Meanwhile, Brown isn't interested in rehashing the draft.
Also from Urban: Kurt Warner is taking a low-key approach to the Cardinals' success. The quarterback is projecting a business-as-usual demeanor.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer expects Seneca Wallace to start at quarterback against the Rams in Week 15. Wallace is getting the meaningful coaching in practice.
Also from Farnsworth: Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones also might miss the St. Louis game.
John Morgan of Field Gulls explains why selecting a quarterback in the first round can make sense. That's where teams tend to find the great ones.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times thinks Jones might not prevail in Pro Bowl voting for the first time in years.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are reluctant to let Hasselbeck play while the quarterback still feels a "tingle" stemming from his back injury.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Julian Peterson and other Seahawks are eager to get another shot at Rams guard Richie Incognito, whom they accused of dirty play.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Dane Looker will continue his Rams career despite a rare brain condition that could increase the likelihood of stroke.
Also from Coats: Rams rookie receiver Keenan Burton is anxious to get back on the field after watching Donnie Avery make big plays against the Redskins.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says newly re-signed cornerback Fakhir Brown was shocked when the team released him last month.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes 49ers tackle Joe Staley as saying he learned much from "getting beasted" by Michael Strahan last season.
Also from Crumpacker: Takeo Spikes is the first linebacker in 49ers history to pick off a pass in three consecutive games.
Also from Maiocco: J.T. O'Sullivan is the NFL's 37th-ranked passer in fourth quarters. Only Tyler Thigpen and Matt Hasselbeck rank lower.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with Staley while noting David Kirtman's signing to the 53-man roster. Kirtman, the Seattle draft choice, takes the roster spot that opened when Zak Keasey went on injured reserve.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are staring at a fourth consecutive defeat, at least on paper.
Also from Brown: That would be Niners coach Mike Nolan on the hot seat.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Edgerrin James and Rod Hood missed the only practice of the bye week for Arizona. Both were excused for personal reasons.
Also from Urban: Sean Morey is one of the few players able to hold a roster spot solely on the strength of his special-teams play.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic also looks at the staying power of special-teams contributors. Even high-profile rookies Tim Hightower and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie say they love their roles on special teams.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks' quarterback situation remains as stable as the stock market.
Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer profiles Seahawks tight end John Carlson, a history major with backgrounds in tennis and basketball.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says right tackle Ray Willis split time in practice with Sean Locklear, who struggled against the Packers.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Bucs have a high-priced babysitter -- quarterback Jeff Garcia -- driving troubled tight end Jerramy Stevens to work every day. Stevens and Koren Robinson will be on the same field Sunday.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seneca Wallace made it through practice without complications.
Also from Williams: Look for Darryl Tapp to retake his starting job from Lawrence Jackson at right defensive end.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jim Haslett isn't just talking a good game. The coach's hit on a Redskins player revealed the new coach as putting money and mouth in the same place.
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Rams guard Richie Incognito was fortunate the team overcame Incognito's inexplicable fourth-quarter penalty Sunday.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will lose fullback Brian Leonard for the season. Receiver Dane Looker has resumed practicing. Kicker Josh Brown has accounted for more than half the Rams' points this season.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat hits on issues ranging from Incognito to Cowboys quarterback Brad Johnson.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers will not make lineup changes on defense. Former linebacker Gary Plummer, now part of the 49ers' radio team, would shake up things if he were coach. Also, Nolan rolls on safety Dashon Goldson in defending his decision to stick with veteran Mark Roman. Ouch.
Also from Barrows: Eagles fans made themselves heard at Candlestick Park, a bad sign.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle has a tough time finding likely victories on the 49ers' upcoming schedule, no matter what Nolan says.
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle thinks the 49ers' coaches should turn to players for potential answers to what ails the team.
Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News explains why, in her view, Nolan should be fired. She points to alleged incompetence, lack of accountability, defensive collapses, offensive problems and window dressing.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News points to J.T. O'Sullivan's fourth-quarter passer rating (48.1) as one reason for the 49ers' problems.
Also from Brown: A look at everything from replay challenges to Nolan's game-day attire.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kurt Warner will use the Cardinals' bye week to recover from injuries. His hands remain a problem.
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic measures Steve Breaston's contributions to the Cardinals' offense. She thinks his emergence affects long-term thinking on Anquan Boldin.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals will try to break through on the road in the coming weeks. Three of their next four games are away from home.
Bob Young of the Arizona Republic explains why it's safe to jump on the Cardinals' bandwagon this season (as opposed to past seasons).
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer tries to make sense of Matt Hasselbeck's injury situation. Good luck. Also, Mike Holmgren disputed the holding call that wiped out Julius Jones' 51-yard touchdown run. The coach also singled out several players for performing well against the Packers: defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, defensive end Patrick Kerney, safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell, tight end John Carlson, receiver Koren Robinson and guard Mike Wahle.
Also from Farnsworth: A power outage at Seahawks headquarters seemed fitting.
Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the odds are against any team that loses four of its first five games. The Seahawks are no different.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune sees a "complex backdrop of misinformation" in the Seahawks' previous comments about Hasselbeck's back.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says Holmgren is keeping his message optimistic. A coach can beat up on his team only so much. Also, the coach might give Maurice Morris additional playing time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic breaks down the Cardinals' injury situation. Both starting cornerbacks are questionable. Tight end Ben Patrick is doubtful. Also, former Cardinals offensive lineman Leonard Davis has found a home in Dallas.
Also from Somers: Ken Whisenhunt says Adrian Wilson wasn't trying to hurt Bills quarterback Trent Edwards.
More from Somers: Wilson says he'll appeal the $25,000 fine even though he knows it's probably a losing battle.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune has a notebook with items on Wilson, Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston and Arizona's first outright division lead after five games since 1988.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com quotes Wilson as saying he was fined $12,500 for a hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap last season. This was counter to my initial understanding. Also, Anquan Boldin will not play against the Cowboys.
Sean McClain of the Courier-Post says 49ers safety Michael Lewis has gotten over his unceremonious exit from the Eagles.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes 49ers coach Mike Nolan as botching the name of Eagles running back Correll Buckhalter. Last week, Nolan referred to "Wesley Walker" in reference to Patriots receiver Wes Welker.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers rookie first-round choice Kentwan Balmer has stayed after practice to work on technique.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers have allowed more sacks than any team this season while their Week 6 opponent, Philadelphia, has more sacks on opposing quarterbacks than any team. Time to hand off to Frank Gore, in other words.
Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News asks former Rams tight end Ernie Conwell about the role tight ends play in Mike Martz's offense. Conwell sounds a lot like Martz when he says the 49ers' Vernon Davis is helping the offense even when he's not catching passes.
Eric Goska of packersnews.com says the Seahawks' passer rating falls well below any associated with a Mike Holmgren offense since 1986.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks expect third-stringer Charlie Frye to start at quarterback against the Packers. Frye's voice got a workout this week as he barked out signals more than during a typical week.
Michael Steffes of Seahawk Addicts offers 10 keys for the Seahawks against the Packers. The first one -- having Matt Hasselbeck on the field -- appears unlikely.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer compares a third quarterback to a spare tire: "No one pays him much attention. He gets almost no reps in practice. And when needed, you just hope he's got enough in him to get the job done."
Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligener looks at the Seahawks' road-home success disparity, noting that only the Ravens have a wider one since 2002.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Dane Looker's career remains in flux while doctors figure out what's wrong with the Rams' receiver.
Also from Coats: Receiver Derek Stanley is eager to play. Also, the Rams picked off more passes than usual during practice this week.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams are concerned about a possible aneurysm for Looker, but tests remain inconclusive.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Receivers comprise 15 percent of the Rams' roster after the team signed Derek Stanley from the practice squad today.
The move makes St. Louis the only team in the league with more than seven receivers on its 53-man roster. Teams are carrying fewer than six on average.
The imabalance reflects injuries to receivers Drew Bennett, Dane Looker and Keenan Burton. Each remains part of the 53-man roster, but none is expected to play agains the Redskins in Week 6. Bennett and Looker are "out" while Burton missed practice again Friday.
The chart shows how many players at each position teams in the division are carrying on its 53-man roster, with league averages in the column farthest to the right. Note that the 49ers' total for defensive backs counts Allen Rossum, who is mostly a return specialist. I have also reclassified the 49ers' Justin Smith as a defensive lineman after listing him as an outside linebacker.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Arizona: Receiver Anquan Boldin hasn't practiced and probably will not play. The Cardinals have enough talent at the position to produce in the passing game even without Boldin. Steve Breaston has 16 catches for 199 yards over the last two games. Early Doucet also became involved in the passing game in Week 5. The defensive line is better with Gabe Watson back from injury. Bert Berry's pass-rush ability will be missed if he doesn't play. The secondary has little chance of holding up against the Cowboys if Adrian Wilson's hamstring prevents the intimidating safety from playing.
St. Louis: Losing tight end Randy McMichael for the season deprives Marc Bulger of a reliable receiving option. McMichael's absence also hurts the running game by making the Rams more predictable based on which tight ends are lined up where. Injuries to Drew Bennett, Dane Looker and Keenan Burton have prompted the Rams to carry a league-high 10 receivers between their practice squad and 53-man roster, nearly three more than the NFL average (7.2). That robs depth from other positions.
San Francisco: The 49ers are healthier than most teams. Depth in the secondary could become a concern if Michael Lewis' elbow injury becomes a problem. The 49ers are already giving up too many big plays down the field. That probably will not change against the Eagles even if Lewis' elbow isn't an issue.
Seattle: Matt Hasselbeck generally struggles when he isn't comfortable. The knee injury he suffered against the Giants compounded an already difficult situation. Hasselbeck already appeared uncomfortable throwing to unfamiliar receivers. If he plays against the Packers, he'll have to worry about the knee holding up. That is a bad combination. Deion Branch's sore heel could push Koren Robinson into the lineup for the first time since 2004, adding to an already surreal situation. A knee injury has limited linebacker Leroy Hill, but the problems on defense go beyond injuries.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer checks in with Seahawks defensive backs coach Jim Mora, who says the team will figure out how to defend big plays. Seattle is on pace to allow 68 pass plays of at least 20 yards, up from 47 last season. The Packers' Greg Jennings visits Qwest Field in Week 6. Jennings leads the NFL in receptions of at least 20 yards. He has 11, four more than any other player.
Also from Farnsworth: Coach Mike Holmgren doesn't want to hear any excuses.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Koren Robinson and Josh Wilson could see more playing time for Seattle this week. Robinson has yet to play in a game this season.
Also from Williams: Highlights from Holmgren's mid-week news conference. Holmgren weighed in on the hit that injured Matt Hasselbeck's knee.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune quotes Holmgren as saying Jim Zorn's departure isn't the reason behind Hasselbeck's poor stats this season. Holmgren points to injuries at receiver and warns against making judgments too soon.
Also from Hughes: Receiver Courtney Taylor could have signed with Denver's practice squad.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times quotes Holmgren as saying Wilson will get more work at right cornerback starting this week.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is going through growing pains as a rookie. Of course, Rodgers-Cromartie isn't the only cornerback to struggle against the Bills' Lee Evans.
Also from Urban: J.J. Arrington isn't sure if he'll keep getting snaps in the offense, but he's happy to become relevant again.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Rodgers-Cromartie is learning that speed can't cover for every mistake in the NFL.
Bob Young of the Arizona Republic offers a primer for beating the Cowboys. He recommends inviting Carrie Underwood and Jessica Simpson to sing the national anthem.
Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune wonders how NFL scouts whiffed on Kurt Warner and Tony Romo, star quarterbacks who entered the NFL as free agents.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals' short-passing game might represent their new identity on offense. The team has scored 76 points in its last six quarters.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are collecting veteran castoffs, notably Ricky Manning and Jason Craft. Thomas also suggests why Fakhir Brown has yet to re-sign with the team. The collective bargaining agreement could allow Brown to collect two salaries this season, but only if he misses one game check.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says St. Louis Blues CEO Dave Checketts might have interest in purchasing the Rams.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates Dane Looker's condition.
Also from Coats: Eddie Kennison doesn't mind being cut and re-signed in quick order.
More from Coats: The Rams have made a few changes under Jim Haslett, picking up the pace of practices, but most things remain unchanged.
Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News isn't the first person to accuse 49ers coach Mike Nolan of running a "vanilla" defense.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle writes about how the 49ers drafted Kentwan Balmer and Chilo Rachal when they could have had DeSean Jackson instead. They'll have to defend Jackson when the Eagles visit Candlestick Park.
Also from Crumpacker: The 49ers' Michael Lewis gets a shot at his former team.
Dan Brown of 49ers Hot Read says the Eagles' Jackson remains motivated to succeed against the teams that didn't draft him.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat provides highlights from Nolan's mid-week news conference, including the coach's belief that other players would help the 49ers more quickly than Jackson would have helped the team.
Also from Maiocco: Answers to readers' questions. He's not hearing anything on the trade front.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee notes that the Eagles chose Jackson with the -- get this -- 49th overall choice in the draft.
Also from Barrows: Jerry Rice mentored Jackson before the draft. The Eagles were impressed by the former Cal receiver's knowledge of the West Coast offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says Bobby Engram's return to the Seattle offense gives quarterback Matt Hasselbeck two inside targets he trusts. Tight end John Carlson is the other.
Also from Farnsworth: Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren doesn't want to hear about difficulties adjusting to the Eastern time zone.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune describes the relationship between Hasselbeck and Engram. Hasselbeck was only half-joking when he said it's reasonable to expect Engram to save the offense.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks are following the same protocol the 49ers used for East Coast games under Bill Walsh. Good teams win road games, in other words.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune hits on highlights from Holmgren's news conference. Holmgren likes Julius Jones.
Also from Williams: Seattle plans to ease Deion Branch and Engram back into the offense. Williams expects the Seahawks to keep five receivers active in Week 5.
More from Williams: Branch appears "explosive and nimble" while Maurice Morris, back from injury, looked good running and catching.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says rookie receiver Josh Morgan is regaining his form after shaking off a staph infection. Morgan leans on the 49ers' veteran receivers for advice. He is one of the more impressive rookies in terms of approach.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says left tackle Joe Staley is taking the 49ers' protection problems personally. Staley says the line needs to finish blocks. Lynch refers to the problems as systemic.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at the give-and-take nature of the 49ers' passing game.
Also from Barrows: Right tackle Jonas Jennings could be back for an Oct. 12 game, while Manny Lawson won't play against the Patriots.
More from Barrows: Bill Belichick weighs in on the high-risk, high-reward nature of the 49ers' offense.
Dan Brown of 49ers Hot Read explains why 49ers coach Mike Nolan likes his "big sub" package featuring five defensive backs. It's all about matchups, Nolan said.
Also from Brown: The Patriots figure to exploit the 49ers' problems in protection.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers plan to use Lawson more once the linebacker returns from a hamstring injury.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with receiver Anquan Boldin, who vows to remain an aggressive player following a scary collision.
Also from Urban: The Cardinals must do a better job protecting Kurt Warner. Meanwhile, Steve Breaston remains the top return option even if he starts at receiver.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are still conducting tests to determine a course of treatment for Boldin, who probably will not play in Week 5.
Also from Somers: Nose tackle Gabe Watson finally appears ready to return for Arizona. That's good news for the Cardinals because Alan Branch has been a disappointment.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Trent Green is taking his demotion in stride.
Bill Coats of Around the Horns explains why the Rams have opened practices to reporters. Coach Jim Haslett wants the public to know how hard the team is working.
Also from Coats: Richie Incognito says the Rams can use a bye week given all the "negativity swirling around" following an 0-4 start.
More from Coats: Rams receiver Dane Looker is relieved to find out an initial MRI reading was incorrect. For about 24 hours, Looker feared he might have a blockage in his carotid artery.
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Rams quarterback Marc Bulger must pick up his game following the bye week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck a "treat" on media conference calls. Thomas follows an item on Seattle's receivers with Hasselbeck's observations on the Rams' defensive problems. Hasselbeck thinks the Rams get in trouble trying to disguise coverages. Of course, Hasselbeck would probably prefer opposing defenses to telegraph their intentions.
Also from Thomas: Dane Looker, suddenly a starting receiver, keeps defying the odds.
More from Thomas: Things have gotten ugly in a hurry at Rams Park, where ownership has already made cryptic statements about jobs being on the line.
Dan Brown of 49ers Hot Read compares Manny Lawson to other first-round picks, with special attention to the fact Lawson was limited to special teams in Week 2.
Also from Brown: Packers coach Mike McCarthy, a former offensive coordinator in San Francisco, never would have played Alex Smith as early as the 49ers played him, but that wasn't his call.
Matt Maiocco of Instant 49ers says coach Mike Nolan is being "secretive" about the extent of Jonas Jennings' injury. Barry Sims gets the start at right tackle this week. Jennings has more talent, but Sims has been a more consistent player.
Also from Maiocco: The Lions heap praise on J.T. O'Sullivan.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News Democrat says the Rams are on pace to allow 80 sacks this season. The team record is 59.
Also from Korte: Rams players know the stakes are high, particularly for coach Scott Linehan. Looker says players must step up.
Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle relays Jon Kitna's high praise for O'Sullivan. Kitna: "I've never been around a person who can throw the ball as firmly and as accurately as he can with as quick of a release. He looks like he's in a situation where he'd be lucky to get a 5-yard throw off, and he can uncork a 20-yard throw with some velocity on it."
Also from FitzGerald: An injury update. Also, Nate Clements concedes to making a "mental error" in drawing a 15-yard penalty for celebrating Patrick Willis' touchdown at Seattle.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Kitna absorbed 114 sacks in two seasons under Mike Martz. O'Sullivan is on pace for 96 this season.
Also from Barrows: Jennings has missed 27 starts to injury since signing a lucrative free-agent deal with the 49ers in 2005. Barrows: "Coach Mike Nolan acknowledged Wednesday that it was prudent of general manager Scot McCloughan to acquire Sims. Considering Jennings' injury history, however, it was a no-brainer."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Jim Zorn, who is facing high expectations in his first season with the Redskins.
Also from Somers: Kurt Warner likes to go long on the field, but he isn't looking forward to staying on the East Coast between games.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Antrel Rolle heads to Washington, D.C., this week with late Redskins safety Sean Taylor on his mind. Rolle and Taylor played together at the University of Miami.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times digests Mike Holmgren's thoughts on keeping two kickers. He tries to explain the rationale without necessarily buying into it.
Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks expect to push Koren Robinson onto the field quickly because they essentially have no feasible alternative.
Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says Koren Robinson's legs were feeling the strain as the receiver practiced with Seattle for the first time since 2005.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer checks in with former Seahawks kicker Josh Brown, who has become the Rams' top weapon on offense.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times also has the latest from Brown.
Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian checks in with former Oregon State running back Yvenson Bernard. As a member of the Seahawks' practice squad, Bernard is impersonating another former Oregon State back: Steven Jackson.
John Morgan of Field Gulls takes issue with our analysis on the 49ers' use of their nickel defense. Former 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer told me he thought it was a great move, and the first-half numbers I analyzed showed Seattle enjoying most of its success from three-receiver personnel groupings. The key, I thought, was that the 49ers were able to force turnovers in the passing game and keep Hasselbeck's completion percentage low.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Scott Linehan should step down two games into the season. Executive Jay Zygmunt should also step down, Miklasz writes.
Brian Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Zygmunt, not Linehan, is primarily responsible for the state of the Rams. As for Linehan's postgame meltdown: "Scott Linehan walked into the postgame interview room and immediately you could tell that we were about to witness an awkward gold mine of material for the next Coors Light television commercial."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Torry Holt held on to a touchdown pass he had no right catching, but the Rams couldn't hold on against the Giants. Holt, when told the Rams had given up nearly 1,000 yards in two games: "Wow. That's all I can say is, 'Wow.' They've got some cleaning up to do. And we've got to do a better job of trying to score some points."
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says something about the Rams must change, but what?
Turf Show Times hands out detailed grades for the Rams, giving the highest marks to special teams and, perhaps surprisingly, receivers. Holt and Dane Looker made plays.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat offers slightly lower grades for the Rams' receivers and special teams.
Also from Korte: Rams rookie Chris Long was more relieved than happy about getting his first NFL sack.
More from Korte: Rams coach Scott Linehan showed anger during a short postgame news conference. His team heads to Seattle with an 0-2 record.
Norm Sanders of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams' offense has one touchdown and three field goals in two games. Tight end Randy McMichael likened quarterback Marc Bulger to a piņata after the Giants sacked Bulger six times.
Rod Kloeckner of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams' special teams were a rare bright spot for the team. Josh Brown kicked a pair of 54-yard field goals.
Todd Hefferman of the Southern checks in with Rams rookie Chris Long, who collected his first NFL sack against the Giants.
Dan Caesar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down the stats for former Rams Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce, who enjoyed big days in Week 2.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down the Rams' depth at receiver, noting that Marques Hagans, Brandon Williams, Derek Stanley and Reche Caldwell might not earn spots on the 53-man roster. Thomas sees veteran Dane Looker as the likely sixth receiver.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses Adam Goldberg's value to the Rams as an offensive lineman with experience at all five spots. Goldberg has started at left tackle recently, giving Orlando Pace a rest. The photo accompanying this story doesn't inspire confidence, but coach Scott Linehan says Goldberg has played well this summer.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat checks in with backup Rams quarterback Trent Green, who will start the final exhibition game -- against the Chiefs, one of his former teams. Green needs the work after attempting only eight passes during the first three exhibition games.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Jerry Rice as "expecting [49ers rookie receiver Josh Morgan] to do some great things this year."
Also from Brown: Ashley Lelie's uncertain future heading toward the 53-man cutdown. Lelie has 21 career receptions of at least 40 yards. Can he be a deep threat in Mike Martz's offense?
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers haven't seen enough from their receivers to know how they'll react during the regular season. Injuries and even illness have kept players off the field. Morgan will miss the final exhibition game.
Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle describes 49ers guard Tony Wragge as an inspiration to players fighting for roster spots. The Cardinals cut him three times. Wragge played in the Arena League and even took a job at Home Depot before finally earning a spot with the 49ers.
Frank Hughes of Seahawks Insider expects Justin Forsett to get plenty of work in the final exhibition game. Forsett might need an impressive performance to earn a roster spot. The practice squad could be the most likely option.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with new Seahawks long snapper Jeff Robinson, who isn't very new at all. The way Boling breaks it down, Robinson could earn more than $5,000 per snap this season. Boling: "The fact that his wife is a physical therapist and dietician is a key to his readiness, he said. While she's busy running their business, a wellness center named '5focus' on South Lake Union, Robinson has been staying nimble by chasing down their 16-month-old daughter, Mae Louise. It should enhance his coverage skills."
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune saw Seahawks center Chris Spencer fall down twice while making routine blocks in his first practice back from injury. Spencer expects to make his preseason debut Friday night against Oakland.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks signed Robinson to snap after Tim Lindsey suffered a back injury against the Chargers on Monday night. Lindsey had replaced Tyler Schmitt, who also suffered a back injury.
Also from Farnsworth: highlights from practice, including two touchdown catches by John Carlson. The rookie tight end could have a big season.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune breaks down the Cardinals' position battles at receiver and linebacker. Sean Morey, Jamaica Rector and Lance Long could be fighting for the sixth receiving spot. Ali Highsmith, Brandon Moore, Matt Stewart and Monty Beisel could be fighting for two spots at linebacker.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals feel good about third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre, who learned the offense with Pittsburgh and has completed 76.7 percent of his passes during the exhibition season.
Also from Somers: Kurt Warner gets the start in the final exhibition game. Still no announcement on who starts the regular-season opener, but giving Warner time with the first-team offense puts him in a favorable position.