NFL Nation: Mike Wahle

Challenging the 49ers' divisional dominance

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
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The San Francisco 49ers have changed head coaches and coordinators multiple times in recent years, but there has been at least one constant.

The team keeps defeating division opponents at home.

The 49ers have won their last seven NFC West games at Candlestick Park. The average final score: 31-12.

It's something to keep in mind when the Seattle Seahawks visit later Sunday. Seattle is the most recent NFC West team to defeat the 49ers at Candlestick, back in Week 8 of the 2008 season.

Eight 49ers starters from that 2008 defeat remain in the lineup or at least part of the game plan this week: Josh Morgan, Joe Staley, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Parys Haralson, Isaac Sopoaga, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. Several 49ers backups and inactive players from that game also remain with the team, including Ray McDonald and Delanie Walker. Alex Smith was on injured reserve and did not play that season.

The Seahawks have had almost zero carryover. Koren Robinson, Walter Jones, Mike Wahle, Keary Colbert, Seneca Wallace, Jordan Kent and current 49ers assistant Bobby Engram were among their offensive starters that day. They're hoping a nearly all-new team can produce different results against the 49ers on the road.

New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh inherits a team that has gone 11-3 in its last 14 divisional games, home or away. Seattle has accounted for two of those three defeats, including in the 2010 opener.

Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus started at left guard for the Seattle Seahawks last season.

No wonder the team went after Robert Gallery when the free-agent negotiating period opened Tuesday.

Gallery
Gallery and Seattle agreed to terms on a three-year deal, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The contract length suggests this will be a relatively modest deal financially for Seattle, a bit of a surprise.

Gallery, 31, missed four games last season and 10 in 2009, but he's a significant upgrade at the position for Seattle. The team has struggled to find a long-term starter at left guard since losing Steve Hutchinson to Minnesota following the 2005 season.

The line has been a mess overall. Seattle started 11 combinations last season alone, but the line is taking shape. First-round draft choice James Carpenter projects as the starter at right tackle, with third-rounder John Moffitt at right guard. Max Unger will step in at center, with Gallery at left guard and 2010 first-round choice Russell Okung at left tackle.

For the first time in years, Seattle has what appears to be a coherent, sustainable and promising plan for its offensive line. Gallery's durability is the biggest concern. The Seahawks felt good about adding another veteran guard, Mike Wahle, several years ago. His injury problems prevented him from holding down the job for long, however.

Gallery's connections to new Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable were important in getting this deal done. Both were together in Oakland for years. Gallery let it be known he wanted to leave Oakland and stay with Cable. Cable's presence means the Seahawks know what they're getting from an injury and production standpoint.

Logan Mankins and the NFC West wish list

February, 14, 2011
2/14/11
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Signing Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins away from New England has gone from unlikely to an even longer shot after the Patriots named Mankins their franchise player.

The NFL and NFL Players Association cannot agree upon whether the franchise tag even exists this offseason, but if it does, the tag will effectively take Mankins off the market.

It's unclear whether any NFC West team would make a strong push for Mankins given the expected price tag, but the thought had appeal for Seattle Seahawks fans still stinging over Steve Hutchinson's departure as a transition player following the 2005 season.

Floyd Womack, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims, Mike Wahle, Mansfield Wrotto, Steve Vallos, Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Chester Pitts and Tyler Polumbus have started at left guard for Seattle since Hutchinson got away. Trading away Sims last offseason proved unfortunate once Alex Gibbs retired as line coach and Seattle stopped favoring smaller guards.

Carolina Panthers buried in avalanche

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
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Jimmy ClausenBob Donnan/US PresswireJimmy Clausen was sacked five times and completed just 9-of-22 for 61 yards in Carolina's loss.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – You know that lockout that everybody keeps saying might be coming in 2011? It’s already started for at least one National Football League team.

That’s the Carolina Panthers.

They’re 0-5. They’ve got a lame-duck coach. They’ve got absolutely no offense and a defense that already is almost worn out. They’ve got absolutely nothing positive going for them right now.

Why?

You could say Carolina owner Jerry Richardson already has locked out his franchise and his fan base. If you want to see what an autumn Sunday without NFL games looks like, look no further than what happened in Bank of America Stadium in a game that will go down in the books as a 23-6 victory by the Chicago Bears over the Panthers. But that was not NFL football.

Despite the best efforts of Bears quarterback Todd Collins and his 6.2 passer rating to hand the game to the Panthers, Carolina couldn’t grasp it. Quite simply, that’s because the Panthers are playing with their hands tied.

“In every phase, that was an avalanche,’’ Carolina coach John Fox said.

An avalanche that’s far from finished. Seriously, if you think things are going to get better for the Panthers anytime soon, you probably also thought back in 2001 that Jeff Lewis actually was going to be a legitimate NFL quarterback. The Panthers haven’t even hit bottom yet.

Things are so bad in Carolina right now, that it felt an awful lot like the dark days of 2001 when I walked through the stadium tunnel in the final minutes of the game Sunday. Sir Purr, the Carolina mascot, shrugged his shoulders. A couple minutes later, Steve Smith, perhaps the best player in franchise history, came along wearing a boot, bouncing a tennis ball and looking very dejected.

Before joining his teammates in the locker room, Smith stood in the tunnel the Bears took to their locker room. He bounced the ball occasionally and shook hands with a few Bears. Then, a noticeable noise picked up and a crew of cameras followed Julius Peppers into the tunnel.

Smith and Peppers clasped hands, embraced and chatted for just a minute. Then, they went very separate ways -- Peppers to celebrate a big day that featured a dazzling interception and Smith to a locker room where it was tough to sense any hope.

“He made a great play,’’ Fox said of the first quarter play when Peppers leaped to get a hand on a Jimmy Clausen pass, fell to his knees and then dove to make an interception. “That’s what great players do.’’

Yep, and once upon a time, Fox had a lot of players to make great plays. But he doesn’t anymore. You know all about Peppers, Fox’s first draft choice, who spent about two years begging to get out of Carolina before getting his wish. You know about Smith, who’s sidelined with an ankle injury.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Bob Donnan/US PresswireJulius Peppers' interception helped the Bears shut down the defensive end's former team.
Apologies to Jon Beason, Jordan Gross, Chris Gamble, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, but the Panthers just don’t have a lot of talent. Fox may shoulder some of the blame for the fact Peppers wanted out and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins did the same thing a few years before. And you can certainly question some of the moves general manager Marty Hurney has or has not made in the past few years.

But just like Fox said, “the quarterbacks are having some help’’ as the offense continues to be dismal, Fox and Hurney have had some help that’s hurt a lot.

That’s where Richardson comes in. The guy has long been perceived as honorable and brilliant throughout the league. But what exactly is Richardson doing with his franchise right now?

Nobody knows exactly because Richardson isn’t talking. He’s got a standing invitation from the NFC South Blog to do that and that message was reinforced to his media-relations director after the game.

Until Richardson talks, we’re left to guess what’s going on and here’s what we know: The Panthers have made themselves into the youngest team in the NFL (at least according to opening-day rosters) and they haven’t signed a free agent of any significance since Mike Wahle and Ken Lucas back in the middle of the last decade. If there was a salary cap this season, the Panthers would be standing right about at $113 million. That’s not a particularly low figure in comparison to the rest of the league, but those numbers are misleading.

If you take away the $30-plus million in what ordinarily would be dead money, the Panthers would be slightly below the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have what would be the league’s lowest cap figure ($84 million), if there was a cap.

“For two weeks, we’re going to be sitting here at 0-5,’’ cornerback Richard Marshall said as he pondered Carolina’s coming bye week and the current situation. “That’s real difficult. It’s frustrating because we’re 0-5. It’s embarrassing.’’

Fox, who has not been offered a contract extension -- his deal is set to expire at the end of this season -- continues to stay on the high road.

“We’ll continue to work on our weaknesses, which are many,’’ Fox said.

But there’s only so much Fox and his staff can do with what they’ve got. Hurney doesn’t seem to have the authorization to go out and make any quick fixes.

“Something has to change,’’ defensive end Everette Brown said.

No doubt, but do the current collection of people who coach and play for the Panthers have the wherewithal to suddenly stop the avalanche? I don’t see it.

There’s really only one guy who can stop the avalanche. That’s Richardson. Again, we don’t know exactly what he’s thinking and you have to believe some of what he’s doing is to prepare his franchise for a lockout.

But the avalanche keeps coming and it sure seems like there is a non-stop blizzard at the top of the mountain.
John Fox & Marty HurneyIcon SMIPanthers head coach John Fox, left, and general manager Marty Hurney remain steadfast in their approach to building a winning team.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- You've been waiting for the past month or so for the Carolina Panthers to reveal some top-secret plan for re-loading after their offseason purge.

Guess what? There's no big bang coming. The plan already is in place. It's already playing out. No matter how much you want to scream about the departures of Jake Delhomme, Brad Hoover and all the rest and yell for flashy and fresh new troops, this really is nothing out of the ordinary for Carolina.

"Being heroes in March, April and May doesn't matter," general manager Marty Hurney said during a break at the NFL owners meetings. "It's during the season and what you're judged by is winning games. We have to see if we can win games and be successful. But I think we have a lot of confidence in our young players and that's what we're doing in our approach."

There, the hand that Hurney and coach John Fox are playing is on the table. There are no huge free-agency signings coming. There are no blockbuster trades on the horizon and chances are slim the Panthers are going to be jumping up into the first round of the draft.

Like it or not, the Panthers are going with what they have. Seriously. And, really, when you think about it, it's not all that much different than what Fox and Hurney have done throughout their tenure. What happened a few weeks back when Delhomme, Hoover, Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis and Na'il Diggs were released, and Julius Peppers was allowed to walk into free agency, was not the "fire sale" many fans have called it.

"Whatever words you want to use, I think we have a philosophy that's been in place for several years," Hurney said. "I think our nucleus or our identity fits our formula of how we win games and have an identity for our football team. I think the key is to make the necessary changes year in and year out to not lose that identity or that winning formula."

Hurney's got a good point. If you really thought a quarterback who threw way too many interceptions, a couple of ordinary and aging defensive tackles and linebackers and a veteran fullback were the face of the franchise, you're missing the point completely.

[+] EnlargeMatt Moore
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Panthers say they are prepared to enter training camp with Matt Moore as their starting quarterback.
The Panthers still have a core in place. It's guys like Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Chris Gamble, Jeff Otah, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Since they joined forces in 2002, Hurney and Fox have preached aggressive defense, ball-control offense and building through the draft. Yes, there are some cosmetic changes this offseason, but the big picture really hasn't changed.

"We feel we still possess that identity and that winning formula," Hurney said. "We have good depth on the offensive line. We have good depth at running back. We believe we have one of the best receivers in the National Football League. Yes, we do have a young quarterback. On defense, we lost a very productive defensive end, but we feel like we have young players ready to step in and we feel like our identity on defense still stands."

But Hurney admits there are questions with that young quarterback and at certain spots on defense. Let's start with the quarterback. I specifically asked Hurney if the Panthers really, truly, right hand in the air, are planning on going to training camp with Matt Moore as their starting quarterback.

Even though Hurney admitted the Panthers may do some things to solidify the position in what remains of free agency and the draft, the answer was a strong yes.

"We've seen enough to know he's taken care of the opportunities he's had," Hurney said. "Joe Gibbs always said at the quarterback position, when the lights go on, guys only get a few chances. When a guy gets that chance, he has to step up and take advantage of the opportunities. Matt Moore has done that in the opportunities he's had. That's the gauge for quarterbacks. They have to take advantage of the limited opportunities they have.''

(Read full post)

NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Why has the NFC South been so quiet in free agency?

The NFC South has been a virtual nonfactor in free agency. Aside from Atlanta adding cornerback Dunta Robinson, there hasn’t been another signing of a true unrestricted free agent in the division.

[+] EnlargeRobinson
Fernando Medina/US PresswireDunta Robinson looks to be the division's only splashy free-agent signing this offseason.
Don’t look for that to change dramatically. First off there’s not much left in free agency. Even if there were, that wouldn’t change things. The NFC South’s silence is largely by design.

It may make for a boring time for fans, but the Falcons, Panthers and Buccaneers all like to say they’re committed to building through the draft. Now, we’re seeing them back it up.

The Bucs, 3-13 last year, have needs all over the place. But they’re not known for being big spenders and they pretty much have been sitting out of free agency. They keep pointing to the 10 draft picks they have accumulated and saying that’s how they’re going to build their team. Like it or not, that’s really what they’re doing.

Atlanta has become pretty transparent since general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith took over. They’ll always tell you they believe in building through the draft and that’s what they’ve done. They’re good for one or two big moves in an offseason. In the past, that’s been signing Michael Turner and Mike Peterson and trading for Tony Gonzalez. Robinson was this year’s big splurge and there’s not likely to be another. The Falcons might plug a hole or two with some mid-level or low-level free agents, but they basically started turning their attention to the draft the minute Robinson signed his contract.

Carolina long has followed the philosophy of building through the draft, which is fine in most years. But the Panthers are full of needs and currently without a first-round pick. They’ve been known to step away from their plan from time to time. One year, they spent a fortune on cornerback Ken Lucas and offensive lineman Mike Wahle. Those guys contributed, but their huge salaries caused big problems in the locker room and neither stayed long. That was a painful lesson for the front office, but it’s only part of the reason the Panthers are so quiet this year. Perhaps more than any other owner, Carolina’s Jerry Richardson is worried about the labor uncertainty. He seems to have given his football people orders to trim salaries and it sure doesn’t look like he’s given them permission to re-invest that money.

Then, there is the exceptional case of the Saints. They’ve been the division’s most aggressive team in free agency in recent years. But their hands are tied because of their Super Bowl victory. In this uncapped year, the final eight teams from last year are playing by a set of rules in which their ability to sign free agents is limited. The Saints can only sign an unrestricted free agent if they lose one. That eliminates a lot of possibilities, but the Saints aren’t sitting still. They’ve pursued some guys who have been cut by other teams, but that hasn’t resulted in much. The good news is the Saints are a team without many holes and they can use the draft to fill their needs.

Seahawks' emphasis on line obvious

February, 5, 2010
2/05/10
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Seahawks have been plugging holes with mixed results in recent seasons.

In 2007, they threw $10.5 million in bonuses at Deon Grant and also signed another veteran free agent, Brian Russell, to address deficiencies at safety. They threw another $15 million in bonuses at Patrick Kerney to help the pass rush. In 2008, they hired Mike Solari to coach their offensive line and signed veteran left guard Mike Wahle to finally plug the hole Steve Hutchinson left two years earlier. In 2009, the Seahawks responded to chronic injury problems at wide receiver by committing about $15 million in guarantees to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, then trading up in the draft to select receiver Deon Butler.

The offensive line was the biggest problem for Seattle in 2009.

One look at the Seahawks' coaching staff shows the team's renewed commitment to that area. Seattle has three assistant coaches dedicated to its offensive line, more than any team in the division and more than any team I can recall. Alex Gibbs leads a group featuring assistant line coach Art Valero and quality control coach Luke Butkus. Seattle has a separate quality control coach for offense (Dave Canales), with Butkus focusing on the line only.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Week 4 Rank Team Mike Sando John Clayton Paul Kuharsky Jeff Chadiha
1 IND 1 1 2 3
2 NYG 3 3 1 1
3 MIN 2 2 4 4
4 NO 4 4 3 2
5 NYJ 5 6 5 5
6 NE 6 7 6 6
7 BAL 7 8 7 7
8 DEN 8 5 10 8
9 ATL 10 9 8 12
10 PHI 9 10 12 11
11 CIN 11 11 13 9
12 SF 14 14 9 10
13 GB 12 15 11 15
14 CHI 13 13 14 13
15 PIT 15 12 15 14
16 SD 16 16 16 16
17 DAL 20 17 17 17
18 JAC 18 19 19 19
19 ARI 17 18 18 23
20 HOU 19 20 20 18
21 MIA 21 22 22 21
22 WAS 27 21 21 20
23 BUF 22 24 24 22
24 SEA 25 23 23 24
25 TEN 23 25 25 25
26 CAR 24 26 26 26
27 DET 26 28 27 27
28 OAK 28 27 28 28
29 CLE 29 29 31 29
30 KC 30 30 29 31
31 TB 31 31 30 30
32 STL 32 32 32 32

The Broncos almost have to assume a spot among the top five in ESPN.com's next power rankings, right?

Yes, in theory, but the reality might be different. The top three teams in the Week 5 rankings won convincingly, the fourth team had a bye (New Orleans) and the fifth team could win Monday night (Miami).

I might move the Broncos into the fifth spot even if the Jets beat the Dolphins. There's no arguing with 5-0.

Here's another issue for debate: Should Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton land a spot in the next MVP Watch after completing 35 of 48 passes for 330 yards in outdueling Tom Brady? You tell me.

And now, the power rankings revisited (chart shows rankings entering Week 5, with losing teams in red) ...

The reckoning: Five games featured lower-ranked teams defeating higher-ranked teams:
  • (8) Denver 20, (6) New England 17. There's no use trying to explain the Broncos this season. How many people had Josh McDaniels listed as a leading candidate for coach of the year? Not even owner Pat Bowlen could have known.
  • (11) Cincinnati 17, (7) Baltimore 14. The Bengals held Joe Flacco to a 70.1 rating with two interceptions. Against all previous form, Cincinnati is suddenly a gritty team that knows how to win.
  • (24) Seattle 41, (18) Jacksonville 0. The Jaguars should be ashamed. They managed one sack against a team playing its fourth-string left tackle and third-string left guard (counting Mike Wahle as the projected starter heading into training camp).
  • (26) Carolina 20, (22) Washington 17. More evidence I was right in ranking the Redskins 27th. This is a bad team, folks.
  • (29) Cleveland 6, (23) Buffalo 3. Nobody calls out Trent Edwards and gets away with it. Well, Rob Ryan does.
Still to play: (5) New York Jets at (21) Miami Dolphins on "Monday Night Football."

Welcome to Loserville: The Jaguars, Raiders, Bucs, Rams, 49ers and Titans lost by a combined score of 232-50. Should be an electric atmosphere in Jacksonville when the Rams visit the Jaguars in Week 6.

Doing 120 in the southbound lane: Jacksonville, San Francisco, Washington. The 49ers went from 35-point winners to 35-point losers. Mike Singletary deserves an extra defeat on his resume after losing his cool and jawing with Falcons guard Harvey Dahl. We want winners, Mike, not whiners.

Northbound in a hurry: Denver, Atlanta, Seattle. We'll be adding Matt Ryan to the MVP Watch list this week. The 49ers' defense had no chance against him.

My early favorite for the No. 1 spot: Indianapolis, again, and it's non-negotiable.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


The Seahawks are not sure whether Matt Hasselbeck will be available for Week 3. They have released no new information.
 Hasselbeck


We might find out more from coach Jim Mora during his news conference this afternoon, but Adam Schefter is reporting the injury as a "fracture," while saying the team remains optimistic and unsure about his availability for Week 3.

Rib injuries are painful and Hasselbeck's status could remain uncertain from week to week. Quarterbacks have played with broken ribs. We need more specific information before determining whether Hasselbeck might miss any games.

The Seahawks could be better off with Seneca Wallace at full strength than with Hasselbeck at a diminished capacity. The new coaching staff has incorporated more quarterback movement into the offense. I think the staff could play to Wallace's strengths if given a full week to prepare a game plan with him at quarterback.

Previous coach Mike Holmgren was more reliant on a rigid offensive system. Adjusting to injuries and other personnel changes could be problematic. We've already seen the Seahawks' offensive line function at a higher level after losing key players. Perhaps Wallace could get Seattle to its bye with a 2-2 record.

Given injuries to Hasselbeck and so many others, the Seahawks badly need to beat the Bears at home in Week 3 before heading to Indianapolis in Week 4 and, mercifully, the bye in Week 5.

Seattle could be without 12 projected and actual starters. Hasselbeck, Walter Jones, Sean Locklear, Chris Spencer, Deion Branch, Brandon Mebane, Leroy Hill, Lofa Tatupu, Marcus Trufant and Josh Wilson are among those injured. Fullback Justin Griffith also appeared to suffer an injury Sunday, while guard Mike Wahle retired as training camp opened. Mora should have plenty to talk about this afternoon.
 
  Steve Dykes/US Presswire
  Seahawks camp has a new feel now that Jim Mora is running the show.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

RENTON, Wash. -- Training camp for the Seattle Seahawks is dramatically different now that Jim Mora has taken over for Mike Holmgren as head coach.

The offense is no longer swimming downstream.

Holmgren stressed perfect execution, scripting the defensive schemes to fit what he expected -- hoped, even -- to see from an opponent. The offense was his baby and Holmgren fumed whenever it struggled through a practice. He would order a play repeated until the offense got it right.

Camp Confidential: NFC West
Cardinals: Mon., Aug. 3
49ers: Wed., Aug. 5
Seahawks: Mon., Aug. 10
Rams: Thurs., Aug.13
Training camp index

Camp Mora offers no such perks.

"It's two schools of thought," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.

The Holmgren school emphasized mastering the offensive system, with less regard for what the opponent might do. Holmgren figured the opposing defense would come up with some surprises from time to time, but practice reps were too scarce to dwell on them in training camp.

"Let's make them perfect, let's be fast, let's get off the field," Hasselbeck said in summarizing the old way.

Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp would rather see the offense face those problems in camp, allowing the staff to fix them before the regular season. They won't script defensive looks to facilitate offensive execution until closer to the season.

Camp Mora also places far more emphasis on game situations, even obscure ones. The team recently practiced third-and-10 running plays against a nickel defense.

"We practiced fourth-and-20 the other day," Hasselbeck said. "Fourth-and-20? What do we got for fourth-and-20? The funny thing is, I think we converted it."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News sees evidence of the 49ers favoring Alex Smith over Shaun Hill at quarterback. Kawakami: "Given the right opportunity -- and not an unending string of new offensive coordinators, a wrecked shoulder and a silly cold war initiated by former coach Mike Nolan -- Smith is a tough talent to ignore." The 49ers do seem more positive toward Smith now that the quarterback is healthy and the team has parted with Nolan and offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Smith still has to win the job.

Michael Fabiano of NFL.com thinks Josh Morgan is positioned to jump past Isaac Bruce and Michael Crabtree as the 49ers' leading receiver. Fabiano: "Morgan, a second-year receiver out of Virginia Tech, has made a name for himself among the team's coaching staff this offseason. He was a top performer throughout OTAs and is expected to enter training camp as a starter opposite Isaac Bruce and ahead of Crabtree on the depth chart. Considering Crabtree's lofty contract demands and the chance for a holdout, Morgan could become the better option in fantasy drafts."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' defense figures to appear more straightforward. For example, Justin Smith will line up at right defensive end, not all over the place, as he did early last season.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee explains how the physically unable to perform (PUP) list works after the 49ers used the designation for defensive end Ray McDonald.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the atmosphere at Cardinals camp was far more festive than for past camps. Attendance swelled from an estimated 2,000 for the morning session to perhaps double that in the afternoon. Linebacker Karlos Dansby on the change from past seasons: "Night and day. Apples and oranges. Oil and water. Whatever you want to call it, that's how it is. It's cool. I'm soaking it up."

Also from Somers: Cardinals notes, including one about fullback Dan Kreider suffering a hamstring injury that could sideline him a couple days.

More from Somers: He isn't hearing anything new on unsigned first-round choice Beanie Wells. I haven't seen general manager Rod Graves since camp opened. President Michael Bidwill did make an appearance at practice. He was wearing his newly presented NFC championship ring.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says new cornerback Bryant McFadden was able to match up with Anquan Boldin in practice. Both are physical players.

Also from Urban: Warner has always had confidence in his abilities.

More from Urban: Darnell Dockett is the latest Cardinals player to say he's putting football ahead of personal contract concerns. Boldin and Bertrand Berry struck similar notes.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune offers highlights from media sessions with Kurt Warner and Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt credits Dockett's meeting with Graves for the defensive tackle's focus on football, not a new contract.

Also from Bordow: Matt Leinart reported to camp at 227 pounds, his lowest weight since college.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones appears well on his way to recovering from knee surgery. Guard Rob Sims also looked good, matching up effectively against defensive tackle Brandon Mebane.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune wonders whether Marcus Trufant's sore back could become a problem. Williams: "We want to be cautious with backs, given our history. And so when Marcus is ready to go, then he'll be back out there. It doesn't appear to be anything serious, other than just sore."

Also from Williams: There was plenty to stress about at Seahawks camp as the team released Mike Wahle, awaited Aaron Curry's signing and placed Marcus Trufant on the physically unable to perform list.

John Morgan of Field Gulls sees a little too much potential -- as opposed to accomplishment -- from the Seahawks' outside linebackers.

Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says long hours led to a somewhat sluggish start to training camp, with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck saying the players need to step it up.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times tries to make sense of the Seahawks' offensive line. He has Max Unger as the third-string center and second-string right guard.

Also from O'Neil: Notes from camp, including one about how Nate Burleson impressed despite suffering a torn ACL less than one year ago.

710ESPN radio in Seattle previews the Seahawks' training camp with Brock Huard, Mike Salk, Steve Raible and Warren Moon. Moon recalls the time a team released a defensive player for hitting him during practice. Quarterbacks get special treatment. Moon also thinks the atmosphere at the Seahawks' practice facility makes camp more bearable for players. Raible thinks Seattle has dramatically upgraded on defense.

Also from 710ESPN: an interview with Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane.

Dave Mahler of KJR radio in Seattle checks in with Seahawks receiver Deon Butler, who says T.J. Houshmandzadeh makes route running appear effortless.

Elise Woodward of KJR radio checks in with Unger, who has a ways to go before he has command of the playbook.

Bernie Miklasz of 101ESPN radio in St. Louis asks Rams general manager Billy Devaney about upgrades to the offensive line. Devaney expects vast improvement, pointing to center Jason Brown as a smart player with the size to help the team become more physical. Devaney also notes that Richie Incognito had the best offseason of any Rams offensive lineman.

Also from Miklasz: more with Devaney.

Will of RamsHerd.com files a detailed report from Rams practice, complete with photos. Jason Smith's quickness impressed him.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports from Steve Spagnuolo's first practice as the Rams' head coach. The coach had trouble sleeping the night before.

Also from Thomas: details, insights and reflections on a potential franchise relocation.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams running back Steven Jackson, who probably will not be making public predictions about his production this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Cardinals practice is beginning as I type, so I'll make this quick before heading out. A few notes from around the division:

  • The 49ers placed defensive end Ray McDonald on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He still counts on the 80-man roster, but he cannot practice because he hasn't passed a physical examination. The 49ers also released guard Matt Huners.
  • The Seahawks are expected to make an announcement on Mike Wahle's future. Seattle is beginning its first training camp practice of the summer now. First-round choice Aaron Curry has not yet signed and I haven't heard any indications that a deal is imminent.
  • The Rams are holding their first camp practice of the Steve Spagnuolo era Friday. I'll be interested to hear what kind of tone is being set.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

  Mebane

Seahawks strength coach Mike Clark singled out Brandon Mebane as one of the players he can't keep from coming into the weight room, even when it's time for a rest. 710 ESPN Seattle has the audio about halfway through this hour-long block.

Keep an eye on Mebane this summer. He's a key part of what the Seahawks want to do defensively. The team has turned him into more of an up-the-field defensive tackle. That should give him an opportunity to get more sacks as the Seahawks implement more of the Tampa principles that helped free up Warren Sapp. If Mebane develops as planned, perhaps Seattle could even use him at end in the 3-3 defense Eric Williams addressed earlier in the day.

Clark on Mebane: "Some [players] you have to kidnap to get them out of here. You laugh, but I am dead serious. I've got one of those I was having a discussion with today. ... He just needs a break but he is so excited about it -- somebody we have talked about, Brandon Mebane."

Defensive tackles generally aren't known as workout warriors. Expect a leaner version of Mebane when the Seahawks open training camp. Clark also mentioned guard Mike Wahle, guard Rob Sims and defensive Patrick Kerney among his most diligent workers.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with some of the 49ers' undrafted free agents. Offensive lineman Alex Boone said not getting drafted was a humbling experience that showed him how actions have consequences. Brown: "Boone, a mammoth (6-foot-7, 328 pounds) tackle out of Ohio State, was arrested after being subdued with a Taser in what law enforcement officials say was a drunken tirade. The Orange County sheriff's office told the Associated Press in February that Boone was jumping car hoods, yanking on a tow-truck cable and trying to break a window when he was arrested. Boone was taken to a hospital and then to a jail medical ward."

The 49ers' Web site says the team has signed former Nicholls State kicker Alex Romero.

Also from 49ers.com: A transcript from coach Mike Singletary's latest session with reporters. Singletary isn't leaving the quarterback race to coordinator Jimmy Raye and quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson. Singletary: "Every day we talk about, 'What do you see? What's happening? What were the conversations?' Because for me, it's that quarterback that when he steps in that huddle, magic happens. There's something that wakes up everybody."

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle says the last few months are a blur to new 49ers running back Glen Coffee. Ratto: "[Frank] Gore is at the stage of his own career where teams start wondering about the amount of tread left on the tires, no matter how much is actually there, and 812 carries and 157 receptions in three years suggests that the 49ers needed to get serious about either lightening Gore's load or finding potential future replacements."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Alex Smith and Shaun Hill took all the quarterback reps on the first day of the post-draft camp. Maiocco also runs a depth chart showing new names in prominent roles because not all veterans are in attendance.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic traces the link between contractual unhappiness and hamstring soreness. Anquan Boldin and Darnell Dockett demonstrate the theory. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "Hey, we know what's going on, so I'm really not going to have much to say about that."

Also from Somers: Quarterback Kurt Warner took part in practice despite undergoing hip surgery recently.

More from Somers: Karlos Dansby says he's focused on football, not a new contract.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Boldin thinks the Cardinals didn't legitimately try to trade him in recent weeks. "I never give up hope [about being traded]," Boldin said. Can earning $2.75 million in salary from the NFC champs be that much of a hardship?

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals' success last season is no match for economics. Bordow: "Yes, the flotilla of warm feelings that carried the Cardinals to the Super Bowl has washed up on shore. Once again, it's all about the money. Boldin and Dockett want their existing contracts renegotiated and they're going to refuse to do their chores until they get what they want."

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says the Cardinals are taking a flier on Oliver Ross even though the offensive tackle hasn't played since 2006. Ross is one of three veterans participating in camp on a tryout basis. Former Rams tight end Dominique Byrd is also there.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Seahawks rookie receiver Deon Butler make a positive first impression at minicamp.

Also from Johns: First-round Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry estimates he has spent 10 to 15 hours "staring" at his playbook. Said fellow linebacker Leroy Hill: "He's smart. A lot of the questions that [linebackers coach Zerick Rollins] was asking him in meetings, he was picking up just like that. I'm like, 'Man, I didn't even know that yet.' On the field, he's running with the first team and fitting right in. I think it's going to be fun to watch and play with him."

Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com takes a big-picture view of the Seahawks' first post-draft practice. Farnsworth: "Hill was huffing and puffing a bit after his first on-field action since Week 13 last season, as he missed the final four games with a neck injury. But he also showed the traits that made retaining his services a priority for the Seahawks. On one play, Hill was all over a pass into the flat to running back Justin Forsett. Later, on a running play, Hill got to the back before the back could get anywhere near the line of scrimmage."

Mary Beth King of Seahawks.com opens the mailbag. She says the Seahawks like their current situation at running back.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times lists players who did not practice with the Seahawks on Friday: CB Kelly Jennings (shoulder), FB Justin Griffith (knee), LB D.D. Lewis (knee), G Mike Wahle (shoulder), T Walter Jones (knee), WR Deion Branch (knee), DL Cory Redding and DE Patrick Kerney (shoulder).

Also from O'Neil: A camp overview. 

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Curry fit in well on his first day of camp and did not appear out of place running with the starters.

Michael Steffes of Seahawk Addicts looks at the "upside" and "downside" of the Seahawks' various moves this offseason.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explores Rams rookie running back Chris Ogbannaya's background. Ogbannaya's father grew up in Nigeria and moved to the United States in 1976. Ogbannaya: "He was lucky enough to get sponsored by a family in South Carolina who ended up being my godparents. Self-made man. Went to Clemson University. Went to medical school after that."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are counting on newly acquired receiver Laurent Robinson to contribute. Injuries slowed Robinson with the Falcons last season.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Steven Jackson likes the Rams' offseason additions. Jackson: "They've also made decisions in the draft and free agency to help me out. That's the biggest thing. You just don't want to throw it all on one guy, and don't give him anything to work with. I think in free agency and the draft, the things that needed to be addressed were addressed."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Naples (Fla.) Daily News says leukemia has claimed Andia Denise Wilson, mother to Edgerrin James' four children. According to the story: "James, who plays for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, is listed as Wilson's 'loving spouse and significant other' in an obituary notice. James and Wilson had four children: Edquisha, 11, Ehyanna, 7, Edgerrin Jr., 4, and Euro, 2. Wilson also is survived by her parents, Jodi Wilson and Larry Green, and grandmother, Viola Fuller." Funeral services are planned for Wednesday in Naples. Wilson was 30 years old.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic describes the Cardinals as unified and more efficient in their approach to the NFL draft. Player personnel director Steve Keim: "I think in the past we would get consumed with 'need' or the lines of communication weren't opened. One side or the other didn't quite have their listening hats on. Honestly, this is what, my fourth staff? I don't think you can get any better than it is now. Coach [Ken] Whisenhunt is a tremendous listener and our coaches respect our scouts' opinions."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks need to select an offensive tackle with the fourth overall choice. Boling: "Yes, left tackle Walter Jones was once the absolute state-of-the art, glorious to behold, stunningly efficient and admirably durable through the years. So was the Alaska Way Viaduct. Jones, too, has been patched and retrofitted. But he's 35, coming back from microfracture knee surgery, and will be increasingly vulnerable over time, or during the next seismic event. Left guard Mike Wahle, center Chris Spencer, right guard Rob Sims and right tackle Sean Locklear all had to be shut down for repairs last season. Wahle is 32 and missed six games with a shoulder injury; Spencer missed five games and Sims 15."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sounds unconvinced about the Seahawks taking a quarterback in the first round. O'Neil: "The Seahawks have a quarterback -- a pretty good one -- whom [GM Tim] Ruskell still believes is in his prime. Choosing [Mark] Sanchez would start the clock ticking on Hasselbeck's time in Seattle. Grade inflation is an annual occurrence for that position in the draft. Franchise quarterbacks are like gold in the NFL, only a lot more rare, and each year teams talk themselves into the idea certain quarterbacks are the answer, sending them floating up the draft order. It's a unique reality of that position in the draft."

Also from O'Neil: He profiles Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, providing details on Houshmandzadeh's relationship with the father he never met. O'Neil: "[Touraj Houshmandzadeh] was an Iranian exchange student, and it was a turbulent time then in the late 1970s, and he was called back to Iran by his family." Father and son spoke for the first time two years ago, by phone. It's unclear if or when they might speak again.

Rob Staton of Seahawks Draft Blog sent Michael Crabtree to the Seahawks in a mock draft featuring other would-be GMs. Aaron Curry was also available, but Staton wasn't convinced Curry would have a dramatic impact in a defense already featuring Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Baylor's Jason Smith as saying he isn't sure whether the Rams prefer Smith to Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe. Smith: "I do know that they like me, and at the end of the day they need a tackle because they let Orlando Pace go. So who knows? They may draft Andre Smith." Andre Smith is a wild card in this draft. An assistant coach I spoke with over the weekend told me he thought Smith -- Andre, not Jason -- was clearly the best offensive tackle available in the draft.

Also from Thomas: The Rams can't afford to blunder with the second overall choice. General manager Billy Devaney was with the Chargers when the team made Ryan Leaf the second overall choice in 1998.

VanRam of Turf Show Times wonders if the Rams would be placing need over value if they selected an offensive tackle with their first-round pick. VanRam: "In year deep with OTs (yes, beware the deep at a position label for a draft) insiders are whispering about potential second round tackles that could be as good as the guys taken among the top three. Why pay second overall pick money when you can get the same guy for second round pick money?" These are good questions to ask.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation wonders how much power 49ers coach Mike Singletary wields in personnel matters, specifically the draft. While Singletary did tell reporters he has control over the 53-man roster, he also said he reports to general manager Scot McCloughan. My take: McCloughan is clearly the key figure for the 49ers come draft time. That is his area of expertise. If Singletary and McCloughan could not resolve strong differences over a draft prospect, the team would probably select someone else.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News suggests the 49ers could pursue a pass-rusher with the 10th overall choice in the draft. One reason: NFL players have reached double-digit sacks 94 times since 2003, but never for the 49ers. Some of the blame rests with the offense. The 49ers too often haven't scored enough points to force opponents into obvious passing situations. Those situations produce sacks.

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