NFL Nation: Jason Craft

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

MORE
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

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.

St. Louis Rams Defensive Back Pos. Age Status
Jason Craft
CB
33 UFA
Fakhir Brown
CB 31 UFA
Todd Johnson
SS
30 Signed
Ricky Manning
CB 28 UFA
Oshiomogho Atogwe
FS 27 Franchised
Quincy Butler
CB 27 Signed
Ron Bartell
CB 27 Signed
Tye Hill
CB 26 Signed
James Butler
SS 26 Agreed
Eric Bassey
S 26 Signed
Jonathan Wade
CB 24 Signed
David Roach
FS
23 Signed
Justin King
CB 21 Signed

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' contract agreement with Giants free agent James Butler, confirmed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, came together amid a tough market for strong safeties.

The Rams had already invested in franchise free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and cornerback Ron Bartell. The softening market presumably made it easier to justify adding Butler. The Rams certainly had a need at the position -- even before they
released Corey Chavous.

We can now envision a Rams secondary featuring Bartell, Butler and Atogwe as starters. Butler started 26 games for the Giants over the last two seasons.

Scouts Inc.'s profile on Butler described him as a player with "upside" and one with good on-field communication skills:

He is an interchangeable player who moves downhill quickly off pre-snap reads. He has good size and range, but is still raw in coverage. He is a competitive player with toughness, but does have some space limitations in deep zones. He shows good transitional skills, but does have some tightness in his hip rotation off speed turns. Butler looks to be more natural in short zones than deep zones. Even though he does have some straight-line range in deep zones, he has average quickness and burst when closing. He has above-average anticipation and downfield awareness.

He does have some ball skills and knows how to use his size and long arms to make plays. He shows a good knack for timing up blitzes off zone fires. As a run defender, he is reckless with his body when he attacks downhill. He is a willing insert player who plays with balance and control in run support. He displays the speed to attack alleys while maintaining leverage on the ball carrier. However, he does have a tendency to play out of control at times. Overall, Butler is an intriguing young player who should eventually move to the next level as he continues to develop.

Rams DB Pos. Age Status
Jason Craft
CB 33 UFA
Fakhir Brown
CB 31 UFA
Todd Johnson
SS 30 Signed
Ricky Manning
CB 28 UFA
Oshiomogho Atogwe
FS 27 Franchised
Quincy Butler
CB 27 Signed
Ron Bartell
CB 27 Signed
Tye Hill CB 26 Signed
Eric Bassey
S 26 Signed
Jonathan Wade
CB 24 Signed
David Roach
S 23 Signed
Justin King
CB
21 Signed

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' contract agreement with cornerback Ron Bartell ends a suspenseful few days for both parties. The Rams wanted to keep Bartell without overpaying. Bartell wanted to maximize his value as an ascending young player.

The four-year, $28 million agreement allows Bartell to claim a $7 million average, while the Rams get to keep their best young corner.

The Rams legitimately feared the cornerback market might sweep up Bartell and leave the team with few promising prospects at the position. That's why the team must be happy with this outcome.

The chart breaks down the Rams' current defensive backs, with unrestricted free agents in lighter font. The Rams still could use a strong safety to replace Corey Chavous. They have spoken with James Butler. A handful of other strong safeties remain unsigned.

With significant money invested in Bartell and franchise player Oshiomogho Atogwe, the Rams might become more selective in filling out their secondary.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

St. Louis Rams 2009 UFA Candidates
Pos. Age
Gary Stills
LB 34.6
La'Roi Glover
DL 34.6
Cory Withrow
OL 33.8
Jason Craft
CB 33.0
Dane Looker WR 32.8
Fakhir Brown
CB 31.4
Brandon Gorin
OL 30.6
Dante Hall
KR 30.4
Travis Minor
RB
29.6
Brett Romberg
OL 29.3
Anthony Davis
OL 28.9
Adam Goldberg
OL 28.5
Ricky Manning
CB 28.2
Eric Moore
DL 27.9
Ron Bartell CB 27.0
Nick Leckey
OL 26.9
Rob Petitti
OL 26.7

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

Gary Plummer of 49ers.com explains why he thinks the 49ers' defense is performing better lately. Plummer: "I think guys are being more aggressive. The players are flying around to the football and you're seeing more movement upfront. The 49ers are playing much more of the 3-4 than they were earlier in the season. There are more stunts and slants. Guys are getting into gaps. That wasn't what the scheme was earlier in the year, but it has become the scheme now, and it's become effective."

Nate Clements, writing for 49ers.com, says his thumb felt a little weird but did not hurt after having a pin removed this week.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are about to find out whether the $2 million they invested in DeShaun Foster was money well spent.

Also from Crumpacker: Michael Robinson and Delanie Walker will return kicks Sunday even though Allen Rossum is back from injury. Expect Rossum to return punts. Kick returns are generally more violent.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider quotes Mike Singletary as saying Frank Gore has a better chance than Arnaz Battle at playing for the 49ers in Week 15. Also, former 49ers coach Mike Nolan used to play NFL Films music during warmups at training camp. Singletary takes another approach.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with Foster, who feels fresh after playing only sparingly in the first 13 games.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the even-keeled Foster is showing no additional excitement despite a likely increased role.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Vernon Davis has promised Singletary he'll keep his cool despite opponents' ramped-up attempts to rile him.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' Antrel Rolle has made a successful transition from cornerback to free safety. The team had trouble finding a viable free safety before Rolle made the switch.

Also from Somers: Levi Brown hopes to enjoy a Hall of Fame career amid chatter that the Cardinals should have drafted Adrian Peterson instead.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals' secondary is more of a finished product with Rolle at free safety and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback.

Also from Urban: Aaron Francisco is coming off a six-tackle game on special teams.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune takes a look at the Cardinals' draft class from 2007. Picking up Steven Breaston in the fifth round worked out great, but has anyone seen Buster Davis?

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says Mike Holmgren finally has the tight end he has coveted. Holmgren wishes he had John Carlson a decade ago.

Also from Farnsworth: Offensive coordinator Gil Haskell says Walter Jones was enjoying a far better season than in 2007 before a knee injury intervened.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Rams and Seahawks have suffered from turnovers on their offensive lines.

Also from O'Neil, with Jose Romero: Any second thoughts Holmgren had about retiring became irrelevant when the organization committed to Jim Mora.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune asks whether the Seahawks should select Jones' replacement in the first round of the 2009 draft.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests a bad economy and a bad record have conspired for a local TV blackout Sunday.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Holmgren, whose NFL career began when the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in 1970.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat addresses the blackout before noting that former 49ers linebacker Larry Grant would play Sunday if injury prevents special-teams leader Gary Still from playing. Also, cornerback Jason Craft left practice after his back tightened up.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams had plenty of opportunities to beat the Patriots, but the offense couldn't fully capitalize in the third quarter.

More from Thomas: Antonio Pittman gives the Rams a chance at running back while Steven Jackson recovers from injury.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are better under Jim Haslett even when they lose. Haslett plays to win, and players are responding. Marc Bulger even talks about the Rams' ability to control their destiny within the division.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat offers a postgame report card with a "D" for the normally strong specialists. The Rams' special teams committed three penalties, and kicker Josh Brown had to make a tackle to save a touchdown.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are producing turnovers on defense, a big change from early in the season.

Also from Coats: The Rams' rookie draft class is coming up big, from Chris Long to Donnie Avery to Keenan Burton.

More from Coats: A report card with a "D" grade for the offensive line.

VanRam of Turf Show Times can't believe what he's seeing from the new-look Rams, even in defeat. He thought cornerback Jason Craft enjoyed a strong game.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams stayed on track even without Jackson and even after losing top pass-rusher Leonard Little to injury.

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

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Rams' release of Fakhir Brown reflects a rift between coach Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Brown and Haslett were together in New Orleans. Miklasz: "The coaches don't get along, and this was an in-your-face move by the HC. And so Rams Park is now Scram Park. As one insider put it to me: if Linehan is going down, he'll try to take others down with him."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Trent Green on the quarterback's first day as the Rams' starter under Linehan. Green uses humor to lighten the mood, suggesting reporters have shown up to discuss a local high school rivalry game.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says newly signed cornerback Jason Craft is getting ready to play immediately.

Also from Coats: Rams cornerback Tye Hill expresses shock after the team releases Brown. Hill: "I think he's one of the most underrated corners in this league. I don't know what happened. I couldn't believe it."

Steve Korte of the Belleville News Democrat gives Linehan's stated reasoning for the Rams' quarterback change. Linehan told Marc Bulger he was taking a disproportionate part of the blame because that's what quarterbacks do.

Also from Korte: Linehan's explanations for several moves on defense.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic revisits Kurt Warner's early days with the Packers in advance of the Cardinals' game against Brett Favre and the Jets. They called him "Pop" Warner back then. "Chachi" was another nickname.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown, who made his first NFL interception in Week 3. Brown dedicated the ball to his late parents.

Also from Crumpacker: The 49ers haven't beaten the Saints since 2001.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' confidence is off the charts. Frank Gore even thinks San Francisco can have the best offense in the league.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee compares the current 49ers against the 2007 version. Both had 2-1 records at this point, but the 2008 team is much more confident. "It just seems so easy now," Gore said.

Also from Barrows: Six members of the 49ers' secondary missed practice or were limited in practice.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' J.T. O'Sullivan and Vernon Davis are trying to get on the same page. Davis wasn't shy about pointing out which passes O'Sullivan overthrew and underthrew.

Kevin Lynch of sfgate.com breaks down defensive performances in the Lions-49ers game. He ranks Justin Smith's efforts atop his list.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks' next five games are against teams with a combined 11-4 record.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

SAINTS

Veteran cornerbacks Jason David, Jason Craft and Aaron Glenn are on the bubble for roster spots. The Saints have Mike McKenzie, Tracy Porter and Randall Gay as their top three corners and Usama Young seems to have the edge for the No. 4 spot. That leaves either one or two roster spots for the three veterans. David, who cost the Saints a fourth-round draft pick and a $16.5 million contract in 2007, took much of the blame for last year's defensive struggles. If the Saints release him, they'll take a salary cap hit of around $3 million.

BUCS

Jimmy Wilkerson, who never was able to make much of an impact in Kansas City, may parlay a strong preseason into a spot in Tampa Bay's defensive tackle rotation. Wilkerson's chances of making the roster are boosted by his ability to also play defensive end.

PANTHERS

Although rookie Jonathan Stewart likely will play a big role at running back, the Panthers are considering using him on kickoff returns. Return specialist Ryne Robinson has been sidelined by an injury. Stewart returned kicks in college and may have more upside than Robinson.

FALCONS

In a story that details how the roster might look, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wonders which two quarterbacks the Falcons will keep behind rookie Matt Ryan. The team could keep Chris Redman and Joey Harrington or let one of the veterans go and keep D.J. Shockley. The guess here is the Falcons will cut Shockley, but try to bring him back to the practice squad if he makes it through waivers.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider