NFL Nation: Kenneth Darby
That was the preliminary word from coach Ken Whisenhunt following the Cardinals' 28-20 preseason defeat at Green Bay on Friday night. Williams would miss the 2011 season if that were the case. He would then face a grueling rehabilitation.
St. Louis Rams running back Cadillac Williams has had torn patella injuries, one to each knee, while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He returned the next season in each case and hasn't missed a game over the past two seasons.
This would be a costly injury for the Cardinals because their other primary back, Beanie Wells, remains unproven. Wells has also missed time with injuries during his two seasons in the NFL.
The Cardinals used a second-round draft choice on Williams this offseason. Whisenhunt said they had him rated as one of the 15 best players available. Williams did not disappoint during training camp, either. He showed an ability to change directions without sacrificing much speed. I thought he had a chance to supplant Wells in the starting lineup at some point during this season.
This injury could lead to more playing time for LaRod Stephens-Howling. The Cardinals have used Stephens-Howling increasingly over the past couple seasons, sometimes with three wide receivers and another running back.
Arizona has stocked up on tight ends this offseason, giving the team additional flexibility with its personnel groups. But just about every grouping includes at least one running back. Wells hasn't been consistent in pass protection and he missed a block against Green Bay.
Among the running backs available: Laurence Maroney, Kenneth Darby, Julius Jones and Brian Westbrook.
Big Revelation: The Rams could win a game after losing Jackson to injury. Kenneth Darby's 12-yard touchdown run gave St. Louis the lead for good. Darby is not the answer if Jackson misses an extended period, but he was good enough Sunday and coach Steve Spagnuolo loves his toughness.
Hindsight: The Rams should have done more to sign a capable backup running back. They knew Jackson had question marks on the injury front. This was going to be an easy criticism to make if something happened to Jackson. Easy doesn't mean incorrect. For the record, the Rams tried to land Brian Westbrook, but they did not view him as an every-down replacement if something happened to Jackson.
Missed opportunities: The Rams netted only 10 points from drives spanning 11, 12 and 17 yards, with kicker Josh Brown suffering his second blocked field-goal try in three games. The Rams controlled the ball in this game. Once Bradford gains more experience and the Rams gain some confidence -- plus some talent -- they'll capitalize more fully on their opportunities.
What's next: The Rams face the Seattle Seahawks at home in Week 4.
Count Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. among those who think the Rams erred in leaning too heavily on Jackson last season. I don't fault the Rams' coaches as much as I would fault the Rams' roster, which has lacked -- and continues to lack -- a strong alternative at the position.
The chart ranks NFL running backs by most regular-season carries since 2006. Jackson and the 49ers' Frank Gore rank among the top four. Jackson also ranks third since 2005.
The Rams' options beyond Jackson include Chris Ogbonnaya, Kenneth Darby, Keith Totson and DeMaundray Woolridge.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams' roster requires additional study after a thorough house-cleaning this offseason. With so many new faces, I feel less familiar with the Rams than with the other teams in the division. This initial look at the roster will hopefully help bring some focus.
Donnie Avery's injury and overall health concerns at receiver could influence how many players the Rams carry into the season at the position.
Marc Bulger's broken pinky shouldn't affect the roster as long as he recovers on schedule. Teams must reduce to 75 players by Sept. 1 and 53 players by Sept. 5. Those initial 53-man rosters sometimes change by Week 1 kickoffs. For that reason, I've been focusing on Week 1 rosters when setting baseline expectations for each position.
The chart provides a framework for how many players the Rams might keep at each position heading into the regular-season opener against the Seahawks.
Here's a quick look at which Rams players I might keep on the cutdown to 53 players:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Three quick hits on the St. Louis Rams:
In the interest of continuity: The Rams have shuffled their offensive linemen too many times for quarterback Marc Bulger to count. The idea this season is to settle on five guys, build continuity and improve over the course of the season. Signing center Jason Brown from the Ravens in free agency gave the Rams badly needed stability in the middle. First-round choice Jason Smith will presumably replace Adam Goldberg at right tackle sometime soon. "There is just something about the line when they are together and working together that makes everyone look good," Bulger said.
Insurance behind Jackson: The Rams know they're in trouble if something happens to franchise running back Steven Jackson. They need all the insurance they can get from his backups. Samkon Gado and Antonio Pittman made a positive first impression in the exhibition opener. Kenneth Darby, the favorite heading into training camp, needs to show improvement after a rough performance in the opener. Gado's 77-yard touchdown run was impressive even though it came against the Jets' backups. Pittman also helped his cause. It's too early to know whether any of the Rams' backup runners can provide quality depth at the position.
Delegating responsibilities: The Rams hired coach Steve Spagnuolo based largely on his record coordinating the Giants' and Eagles' defenses. Spagnuolo suggested Saturday that he mostly stood back while defensive coordinator Ken Flajole called plays in the exhibition opener. I had assumed Spagnuolo would probably call the defense this season. "I am going to try not to step on toes," Spagnuolo told reporters. "You hire people to do their jobs and I thought they both did a good job of it." Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will obviously call the offense. Spagnuolo is ultimately responsible for how the defense performs. For him to trust defensive calls to a first-time coordinator shows great faith in Flajole.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The Rams appear content moving forward with their current receivers after learning Donnie Avery suffered a broken fourth metatarsal bone. They added safety Mark Rubin to replace the injured Eric Bassey.
I arrived at Rams camp in time to watch most of their afternoon practice. This was a non-contact practice without pads. I did not see pass-rush drills and did not see enough from the healthy receivers to get an initial feel for them. Nate Jones and Sean Walker caught deep passes. Friday will provide a much better opportunity to get a feel for the Rams.
Running back Kenneth Darby and quarterback Keith Null botched a handoff exchange. Running back Antonio Pittman dropped a short pass from Kyle Boller. Rubin picked off a pass from Null after a teammate whose identity eluded me batted it near the line of scrimmage.
Adam Goldberg was still working with the starters at right tackle, ahead of No. 2 overall choice Jason Smith. Smith won't get a break in this camp as long as Leonard Little is healthy. That's a difficult matchup for the best veteran tackles, let alone a rookie. I'll be watching Smith very closely in the Rams' exhibition opener against the Jets.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' recent moves suggest the team is heading in the right direction. Crumpacker: "Signing tackle Joe Staley to a six-year extension, to go with earlier contract extensions for center Eric Heitmann, outside linebacker Parys Haralson and running back Michael Robinson, sends a message to the rest of the team that hard work and production on the field will be rewarded."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says new 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye plans to use tight end Vernon Davis as a receiver more frequently than the 49ers did last season. That's what happens when a team requires its coaches to use its personnel as intended. The 49ers did not draft Davis near the top of the first round to block defensive ends.
Also from Maiocco: It'll be tough for Alex Smith to beat out Shaun Hill this season. Maiocco: "He not only has to outplay Hill in practice, he has to outplay him by a considerable margin. And, even then, it might not be enough for Singletary to go with him over Hill."
More from Maiocco: Patrick Willis predicts a top 10-finish for the 49ers' defense in 2009. That would require an improvement of three places from last season.
Still more from Maiocco: Details on Staley's contract and Staley's contention that the 49ers' new offense should help them cut down on sacks. I think Staley is being genuine -- he knows no other way, it seems -- but players usually say they prefer new systems over previous ones. Here's what another 49ers lineman said about the Martz system last offseason: "Everything about our offense makes sense. With some I've had in the past, we had seven or eight adjustments on a play depending on a defense. Right now I feel everything is very precise, very defined. We have rules we stick to. It should be easier for the long term."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Isaac Bruce thinks parity in the NFL can help the 49ers contend for the Super Bowl. Also, tight ends coach Pete Hoener is pushing rookie Bear Pascoe, a player the 49ers expect to help in the run game.
Also from Barrows: Hill struggles throwing in windy conditions. That's tough for him because winds tend to become a factor during afternoon sessions at team headquarters. Not that the wind ever swirls at Candlestick.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com cites a Forbes magazine piece noting that the Cardinals' brand has enjoyed strong gains over the last year. Urban: "Forbes says the Cards' 'brand value' has increased a 'staggering 143 percent' over the past three years, up to $68 million. They also note the $155 million, 20-year naming rights deal with the University of Phoenix at the stadium is the third-largest in the NFL. These days, with the economy being what it is, it's also tough to come by such a naming rights deal anywhere close. In the NFL, the Giants are the second 'hottest brand,' with the Cowboys third, the Jets fourth and the Colts fifth."
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Seahawks coach Jim Mora and CEO Tod Leiweke will climb Mt. Rainier with famed climber Ed Viesturs on July 5. Viesturs has visited the Seahawks regularly over the years. He has summited Everest six times. He was the first American and fifth person overall to scale the 14 highest peaks without supplemental oxygen.
Dean J. Koepfler of the Tacoma News Tribune provides a slideshow from the Seahawks' recent visit to an Army obstacle course.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams running back Steven Jackson as saying he's getting more detail-oriented coaching this season.
Also from Coats: a look at the Rams' safeties. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "If those two are on the same page, that'll permeate to the rest of the defense. If they're not on the same page, then everything goes south."
More from Coats: "Chris Draft, who had been working exclusively in the middle , took some reps at strongside linebacker on Saturday. That could be a prelude to second-round draftee James Laurinaitis moving up to the first team at or near the start of training camp."
VanRam of Turf Show Times thinks Rams backup running back Kenneth Darby can be effective in pass protection. He suggests the team could use two halfbacks at the same time. That wouldn't facilitate a power running game, however.
Chris Lee of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides a photo slideshow from Rams minicamp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former NFL linebacker Winston Moss is first up in the Rams' coaching search. Moss is assistant head coach in Green Bay.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains why Jim Haslett could still emerge as the Rams' choice. The Rams might not be in position to land a higher-profile coach.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams packed their belongings and headed home. Some are unlikely to return.
Also from Coats: Kenneth Darby might have done enough to be the Rams' kick returner next season.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Haslett expressed no regrets about his tenure as the Rams' interim coach.
Also from Korte: Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe laments the inevitable roster changes that await each offseason.
More from Korte: Rams tight ends Joe Klopfenstein and Anthony Becht need surgeries.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Mike Singletary expects to make a decision on offensive coordinator Mike Martz by Wednesday.
Also from Crumpacker: Takeo Spikes, scheduled to become a free agent in March, says he wants to return.
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle thinks 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill has earned the starting job.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider looks at 49ers players without contracts for the 2009 season, from Bryant Johnson to Ron Fields.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers emerged from this season with hope after winning four of their final five games. Spikes lamented a road loss to Arizona that severely damaged the 49ers' playoff chances.
Chrissy Mauck of 49ers.com says Frank Gore and other players are lamenting their 2-6 start, which prevented them from making a playoff run. Gore singled out defeats to the Eagles, Seahawks and Cardinals as particularly costly.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic explains why the Falcons and Cardinals should be familiar with one another. Strong ties between Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and Falcons assistant Mike Mularkey led to sharing of plays.
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals and Edgerrin James need one another, an unexpected twist after Whisenhunt benched James earlier in the season.
Bob Young of the Arizona Republic digs up the Cardinals' past missteps in order to bury them once and for all heading into the team's playoff game.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says receiver Anquan Boldin is definitely playing against the Falcons. Also, the Cardinals had about 8,000 unsold tickets as of Monday.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with fans who waited overnight to win free tickets to the Cardinals' first home playoff game since 1947.
Also from Urban: Cardinals players will have to study the Falcons carefully because Atlanta is a new team this season.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune quotes Whisenhunt on playoff intensity. The coach compares the playoffs to a Monday night game times 10.
Also from Tulumello: The Cardinals have sold out every home game for three seasons, but tickets remain available as the blackout deadline approaches.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks have begun the transition from Mike Holmgren to Jim Mora. I would expect the change to become official in the next couple weeks.
Also from Farnsworth: Seattle lagged in several statistical categories this season.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks expect Mora's high-energy approach to distinguish the coach-in-waiting.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune quotes Julian Peterson on the difference between Holmgren and Mora. Peterson: "Jim's a little fiery, a little younger and moves from sideline to sideline a little faster than Coach [Holmgren]. But other than that, it's still going to be getting back to work and guys getting ready to play."
Also from Williams: A look at the choices facing Seattle this offseason.
John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune says it's time to bid farewell to Holmgren, no questions asked.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com writes about Tim Hightower's path to the NFL. Strong parental support helped Hightower get to this point.
Also from Urban: The Cardinals' quarterbacks and receivers hold meetings to help stay on the same page.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic spoke with one of Hightower's former college coaches as part of a profile on the rookie running back. Former Richmond coach Dave Clawson, now at Tennessee: "Most I-AA guys are one-dimensional, but he's a really a complete back."
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says Hightower gets emotional discussing Edgerrin James, his displaced mentor.
Tom Marino of Scout.com offers midseason grades for the Cardinals, including a B-minus for the offense. He thinks the team's inability to win on the road will spell a one-and-done scenario come playoff time. If the Cardinals reach postseason, however, they figure to do so as a division winner, which means at least one playoff game at home.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
And they say something has to give? Not necessarily, and that's probably bad for Seattle. It's tough to envision the Seahawks winning this game without scoring points on defense.
On offense, Seattle remains an injury-depleted team that needs an identity but isn't necessarily searching for one.
Yes, injuries explain a large part of the team's struggles. A healthy Matt Hasselbeck would probably give the offense a chance to lead with the passing game, the way coach Mike Holmgren likes it. But the Seahawks don't have a healthy Hasselbeck. They haven't had one for several weeks. Time to adjust?
The Seahawks could probably do more to exploit their straight-ahead running game. Seattle ranks among the NFL leaders with nine rushing plays of at least 20 yards, but the offense appears lost when the passing game fails to lead the way.
That needs to change, but it probably won't in Week 10. The Dolphins have allowed a league-low one rushing play longer than 20 yards. They own victories over the Patriots, Chargers, Bills and Broncos. The Seahawks appear ready to join the list.
The Rams have allowed a league-high 17 pass plays covering at least 30 yards. The Rams have allowed 26 sacks, sixth-most in the league. The Jets' defense has collected 29 sacks, third-most in the league behind the Steelers and Giants.
Steven Jackson missed practice all week for the Rams. The former Pro Bowl running back will not play against the Jets. His backups, Antonio Pittman and Travis Minor, have been slowed by injuries. Pittman could play, but unknown Kenneth Darby could start after taking most of the first-team reps in practice.
A diminished running game puts too much pressure on quarterback Marc Bulger. Rookie receiver Donnie Avery does offer big-play potential, but he'll have a harder time hurting defenses, at least in theory, without a running game to keep the safeties' attention.
Keep an eye on Bulger's body language. He showed more toughness and leadership while winning in Jim Haslett's first two games as head coach. That needs to extend to the tough times as well. Bulger could get lots more practice if Jackson remains unavailable.
San Francisco 49ers (2-6) at Arizona Cardinals (5-3), Monday Night Football, 8:30 p.m. ET
Let's call this one a do-over for interim coach Mike Singletary, interim quarterback Shaun Hill and the 49ers. Firing Mike Nolan before the bye week put Singletary in tough spot. The ensuing 34-13 home defeat to the Seahawks marked the first time all season the 49ers failed to compete.
There can be no excuses in Week 10. Singletary needs to project stability and control along with the fire and brimstone that comes naturally to him. Hill should help him do that by protecting the football better than predecessor J.T. O'Sullivan did, particularly now that Singletary appears to be calling for a more conservative approach from offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
The 49ers won in Arizona last season with Trent Dilfer at quarterback, but their defense was playing much more consistently. The current defense probably won't stop Kurt Warner and friends from building a lead. That will threaten Frank Gore's role for the 49ers, at which point the Cardinals' pass rush should feast on the 49ers' struggling line.
Strange as it sounds, this is close to a must-win game for the Cardinals. They face the Seahawks (road), Giants (home) and Eagles (road) over the next three weeks. Beating inferior opponents at home is all but required as the Cardinals move closer to a rare playoff berth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Arizona: Injuries continue to affect Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick, but the Cardinals have enough flexibility to flourish in the passing game without healthy tight ends. Even third tight end Jerame Tuman (ankle) is hurting. Stephen Spach filled in admirably as a run blocker against St. Louis. Larry Fitzgerald has a thumb injury. His hands weren't as good against the Rams in Week 9. Left tackle Mike Gandy has had ankle problems. The Cardinals can't afford injuries on the offensive line.
San Francisco: The right side of the offensive line was having problems even before injuries wiped out tackles Jonas Jennings and Barry Sims. The 49ers will have a hard time protecting quarterback Shaun Hill against the Cardinals' active front eight (counting strong safety Adrian Wilson as a potential blitzer off the edge). Tight end Delanie Walker is healthier coming out of the bye, restoring versatility to the offense. But third receiver Arnaz Battle is out, putting more pressure on rookie Josh Morgan. Time to ride Frank Gore.
Seattle: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, receiver Deion Branch and defensive end Patrick Kerney will miss the game. The Seahawks have enough depth to weather one serious injury for the short term, but it's tough to envision Seattle winning an early game at Miami with so many key players staying behind. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu is expected back from a groin injury. The Seahawks need him to make more plays.
St. Louis: The situation at running back is sapping the life from the Rams' comeback hopes under coach Jim Haslett. Steven Jackson won't be full strength if he's able to play. Backup Antonio Pittman is out. Even Travis Minor is hurting. Kenneth Darby could start. The Rams' pass protection isn't particularly solid even when Jackson is running well. Quarterback Marc Bulger figures to struggle with consistency and confidence until Jackson regains form. Injuries have also chipped away at the Rams' already shaky depth at linebacker, tight end, cornerback offensive line and receiver.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic looks at the relationship between Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Warner: "We talk so much ... my wife thinks sometimes I'm having an affair with coach Haley." Quote of the year from Warner?
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to make his first NFL start against the 49ers in Week 10. This is a logical time to make a move that has seemed inevitable. Rodgers-Cromartie replaced Eric Green in the base defense after Green allowed an 80-yard touchdown reception.
Also from Somers: The Cardinals will open the roof at University of Phoenix Stadium for their game against the 49ers. Somers revisits NFL rules governing retractable roofs.
Also from Urban: Sizing up Warner's chances for MVP honors. The quarterback can't struggle in the high-profile games that await.Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune reaches back to the 1992 season for perspective on the Seahawks' current struggles. That team produced the NFL's defensive player of the year and Sports Illustrated's coach of the year despite a 2-14 record.
Scott Johnson of the Everett Herald said Ray Willis would be the likely starter at right guard if a foot injury sidelines Floyd Womack. The Seahawks expect Womack to play.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times quotes Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter on alleged inconsistencies of NFL disciplinary policy. Porter wonders how the league can fine players for small stuff while letting Matt Jones continue playing after a cocaine bust.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks think they can rally once they get key players back from injury.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall is keeping the faith. Players seem to be upbeat.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams cornerback Tye Hill plans to consult with Dr. James Andrews next week. A lingering knee injury doesn't seem to be getting better.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams running back Kenneth Darby, who could start in Week 10. Darby draws inspiration from the memory of his late father, who died of cancer when Darby was in college.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat looks at Samkon Gado's return to the NFL. The running back had been preparing to attend medical school.
Gary Peterson of Bay Area News Group recalls the late Lenvil Elliott, whose career peaked at the right time.
Tom Pedulla of USA Today looks at Mike Singletary's start as 49ers interim coach, noting that Singletary keeps a journal and updates it about 10 times per day.
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