Why is San Francisco not worried about Alex Smith's preseason struggles? When will Seahawks LB Leroy…
Around the NFC West
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Glen Coffee rejected the notion that Mike Singletary's grueling training camp played a part in his decision to suddenly quit the team last Friday.
"It's what we do," he said. "We're football players. I'm not walking away because of that. As far as coach Singletary and the 49ers -- Singletary, that dude is legit. He's legit on all levels. He's doing what he feels is right. It's definitely not camp (that prompted his decision) and how hard camp was. That's football."
Still, players seem to be leaving 49ers training camp -- some by injury, some of their own volition -- at a steady pace. In addition to Coffee's stunning decision to retire, defensive end Kentwan Balmer also abruptly left camp and has been unexcused for several days of practice.
Two other 49ers, linebackers Scott McKillop and Martail Burnett, were lost for the year because of knee injuries while two more prominent players, center Eric Heitmann and linebacker Ahmad Brooks, have long-term injuries. Heitmann broke his fibula and will miss at least six weeks. Brooks has a lacerated kidney and will be reevaluated later this week.
Of those losses, Coffee's is the most surprising and potentially the most critical to the 49ers. He was the No. 2 running back behind Frank Gore, and he promised to see plenty of carries during the exhibition season. Gore also has missed games with ankle injuries in each of the last three seasons. Coffee packed on 17 pounds of muscle since he was drafted in the third round so that he could be a more adequate backup for Gore.
Coffee said he's considered leaving football for years and made a mistake by entering the draft. He said he hoped that playing professionally would reawaken his passion for the game. He found Christ while at the University of Alabama and feels he is now on a different path. He said he plans to return to Alabama to finish his undergraduate degree -- he must take two more classes -- and he plans to earn a master's as well.
Coffee said he would not reconsider his decision despite the fact that the 49ers can recoup $621,000 of his $828,000 signing bonus.
"I've already told Christ it's time to go," he said. "I've already rung the bell. That's not going to happen."
Coffee's departure puts added pressure on sixth-round draft pick Anthony Dixon, who is now expected to take over the role of No. 2 tailback. The 49ers love Dixon's size -- 233 pounds -- and his light feet. However, they are trying to teach him to run with a lower pad level and to stop shuffling his feet before hitting the hole. He also has struggled in pass protection early in training camp and won't get any meaningful preseason snaps until he masters that skill.
"I like him, though there are times I want to strangle him," offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said of Dixon. "He's young, and you know how they say -- youth is wasted on the young. He's young and he's learning. He's running over the quarterback and the lines. He's just having fun, and he's learning what to do."
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll's debut was eerily similar to his team's performance last season.
Although the Seahawks managed a 20-18 win over the Tennessee Titans at Qwest Field, the first-unit offense and defense struggled in the opening quarter.
The Seahawks were outscored 100 to 37 in the first quarter in 2009, leading to a 5-11 campaign. And that trend continued during the team's first exhibition game, as Tennessee's starters jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the opening quarter.
Led by All-Pro running back Chris Johnson, the Titans took the opening drive and easily marched down the field, going 79 yards on 10 plays, with Johnson finishing the drive on a one-yard plunge for a score.
"You dream about coming out on that first drive knowing the stadium, playing great defense and knocking them back and getting off the field," Carroll said. "Well, that dream didn't come true tonight."
The offense didn't fare much better, sputtering to just 32 yards of total offense on three drives. Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck finished just 4 of 10 for 26 yards for a 47.9 passer rating.
In the first unit's final drive of the night, the Seahawks managed to get into field-goal position, with Olindo Mare converting a 44-yard effort early in the second quarter.
Overall, the defense forced three turnovers for the game, including interceptions by cornerback Josh Wilson and safety Kam Chancellor, and a fumble recovery by linebacker Matt McCoy.
And the saving grace for Seattle's offense was the play of reserve quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.
The Seahawks picked up the third-string quarterback from San Diego in an offseason trade and paid him $8 million to challenge Hasselbeck.
But during the first two weeks of training camp, Hasselbeck clearly outplayed the Clemson product to cement his role as the starter for Seattle.
However, Whitehurst's performance on Saturday might have put him back into the competition to earn more snaps with the first unit. Whitehurst finished 14-of-22 passing for 214 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while working with the second unit.
And in his first NFL action in three seasons, receiver Mike Williams lived up to his billing as a potential big-play receiver for Seattle, scoring on a 51-yard burst after corralling a short pass from Whitehurst.
"I hope you can see that we're excited about Charlie," Carroll said. "We're really excited about him. He's a good dude who's working hard and knows his stuff and can make the plays. And that's going to help us somewhere down the road."
Filled with nervous energy, Carroll walked around during warmups holding a football and greeting players as they walked onto the field. He had to be nudged back to the sideline by officials a few times in his first game back in the NFL after a decade's absence.
And Carroll paced the sideline during the game on a surgically repaired left knee that was fixed just a few weeks ago. It was Carroll's first NFL game since Jan. 2, 2000, when he coached for New England.
"It was great to be out there," Carroll said. "I learned a couple things tonight, but I won't tell you about them. But I learned a couple things tonight that I needed to know."
ST. LOUIS RAMS
As the regular season approaches, everyone is watching to see what the Rams decide at the quarterback position.
After rookie quarterback Sam Bradford was sacked four times Saturday night in his preseason debut against the Minnesota Vikings, coach Steve Spagnuolo acknowledged that issues on the offensive line could contribute to the choice that will be made between Bradford and veteran A.J. Feeley.
Said Spagnuolo, "When we talk about the quarterback, and I know everybody wants to know how that thing's going to pan out, we've got a little bit of time here, and it will. We'll make the right decision for the football team, but it is for the football team and in this case, the offense.
"Really, offense begins with the offensive line. I've been saying it since we got here. I know the offensive line understands that, and until we straighten out some of these things, it's going to be tough for any quarterback. My guess is that the group of offensive linemen that we have, that they'll take this challenge. They'll come back tomorrow morning ready to work and get it ironed out."
Bradford played 21 snaps behind an offensive line that had rookie Rodger Saffold at left tackle, Jason Smith at right tackle, Adam Goldberg and Jason Brown at left and right guard, respectively, and Hank Fraley at center. Had Jacob Bell been able to play, Goldberg would have likely been at right guard and Brown at center.
Smith was seeing his first game action since last November, and he was also limited during the first week of training camp recovering from a toe injury. He struggled in pass protection.
Bradford completed four of his first five passes for 39 yards, including the only two third-down conversions the Rams had in the game. However, he then had five consecutive incompletions, some of which were throwaways as he was being rushed. Third-string quarterback Keith Null was also sacked twice.
Saying the pass blocking was "a concern," Spagnuolo added, "I think anytime the quarterback gets sacked six times in a game you've got to be concerned. Now when we break it down, three of them were technique by individual players and the other three were really missed assignments, just young guys that haven't been ... one guy made the same mistake a couple of times. It's an easy, correctable thing.
"I'm sure when these guys see it on film they're going to say, 'I can't believe I missed that,' and then I think there was one or two in there where the quarterback could of gotten rid of the ball. So it s a combination of things. We're not going to panic after one game, but certainly anytime a quarterback gets sacked we're going to focus on it."
Spagnuolo said he's not worried about Smith. "He's behind everybody else and all of a sudden you put him out in a game and the speed of the game is completely different. So I think he'll smooth that out. He played well there over on the right side about four or five games in the middle of the season last year so hopefully he can get back in that groove."
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