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Keys to Training Camp: NFC West

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Arizona Cardinals

Location: Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, AZ)
Dates: August 1 - August 18
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Does Kurt Warner still have what it takes? - With only 10 TDs in the last three seasons, and a propensity to get sacked and fumble, can Kurt Warner recapture the poise and talent which propelled him to two league MVP awards in St. Louis? Dennis Green has said all the right things, but then again he was comparing Josh McCown to a "young Brett Favre" a year ago at this time.

  2. Is J.J. Arrington ready to shoulder the load? - Arrington ran for 2,000 yards last season at Cal, had 100+ yards in every game and showed the kind of versatility and open field ability which seemingly makes him a perfect fit for Dennis Green's offense. But can he learn the playbook and prove himself as a blocker in camp while fending off veteran Marcel Shipp?

  3. Will Boldin get a new deal? - Anquan Boldin wants a new deal and is being represented by Drew Rosenhaus. Yet, unlike other Rosenhaus clients, Boldin has participated in team minicamps and is expected to report to training camp. Will the team come to terms on a new extension and will Boldin be a man of his word?

  4. The search for a starting tight end - One thing is certain, the Cardinals are going to start an inexperienced tight end this season. Whether that's Eric Edwards, Lorenzo Diamond, Bobby Blizzard, Adam Bergen or someone else is something that will be answered in camp.

  5. Is Dennis Green done tinkering with the offensive line? - The departure of L.J. Shelton may signal the end of Dennis Green's purge of the line he inherited last season, or not depending on whether Leonard Davis plays up to his potential. For now, it looks like free agent Oliver Ross and Davis will man the tackles, 2nd center Alex Stepanovich will start in the middle, and rookie Elton Brown will battle with Jeremy Bridges and Reggie Wells for a spot at guard. These players are all young, but unproven. Can Green and his coaching staff develop them into a cohesive unit that, most importantly, can keep Kurt Warner off his back?

  6. How will Keith Rowen's philosophy be integrated? - New Offensive Coordinator Keith Rowen comes over from Kansas City, where he coaches Tony Gonzalez and the tight ends. It will be interesting to see how Rowen's experience in Dick Vermeil's spread offense is integrated into Green's more traditional West Coast attack. Certainly Rowen's experience should benefit Kurt Warner who had his best years in Vermeil's system.

St. Louis Rams

Location: Rams Park (St. Louis, MO)
Dates: July 28 - August 19
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Figuring out Marshall Faulk's role? - Marshall Faulk graciously agreed to hand the starting tailback role over to Steven Jackson for the 2005 season, and has been nothing but supportive. But HC Mike Martz has been quoted as saying Faulk will ultimately dictate how much he plays and to an extent what his role will be. Does the team plan to use Faulk, a gifted pass catcher, as a receiver and if so, will they line him up wide or in the slot with frequency? Will Faulk be in line for 10%, 20%, 40% of the carries?

  2. Getting Alex Barron up to speed - The team is set at LT with Orlando Pace, but right tackle has been a concern for several seasons. The team hopes Alex Barron, a rookie from Florida State, solves their issues but he must learn a new position (Barron was primarily a left tackle in college) and prove critics wrong who questioned his intensity.

  3. Is Kevin Curtis really capable of pushing Isaac Bruce? - Several published reports including one by a noted ESPN reporter contend that Kevin Curtis has a chance to push Isaac Bruce for playing time in 2005. While that's hard to believe, we'll find out if there's any truth to it in camp.

  4. Fixing the special teams -The Rams have been notoriously bad on special teams during Mike Martz' tenure as head coach. This season the hired a new ST coordinator (Bob Ligashesky) to fix the problems, a must if the Rams are to contend.

  5. (IDP) The battle at free safety - Rookie OJ Atogwe will battle incumbent Michael Stone and veteran Mike Furrey to the starting free safety spot. Atogwe was a productive player at Stanford and could be the perfect compliment to SS Adam Archuleta.

  6. (IDP) Establishing a pass rush - Last year we asked this same question after the team let Grant Wistrom depart for division-rival Seattle. This year the cupboard appears more barren once you get past Leonard Little. Tony Hargrove is penciled in at the other end position, but he's not a game changer. And the bench looks devoid of options unless you think Vontrell Jamison, Clifford Dukes or Brandon Green are hidden gems waiting for their chance.

San Francisco 49ers

Location: 49ers Complex (Santa Clara, CA)
Dates: July 29 - August 28
Open to the public? - Limited (see website for details)

  1. Establishing the Mike Nolan Era - Mike Nolan has been charged with the unenviable task of remaking the league's worse team into a franchise worthy of the 49ers legacy. Nolan will bring a level of toughness and accountability that was lacking under Dennis Erickson, but he too must deal with an owner who appears unwilling or unable to invest enough money to maximize the team's potential.

  2. Will Alex Smith start from Day One? - The team must decided whether to throw Smith, the first overall pick, into the fire on a team that's not equipped to contend this year. Smith, who is cerebral but played primarily in the shotgun in college, will need to outperform Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey in camp.

  3. Sorting out the WR corps - The 49ers need playmakers and one should make no assumptions about the pecking order at any position, including wide receiver. Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle were initially declared starters, but Johnnie Morton was signed shortly thereafter. And where does 2004 first rounder Rashaun Woods fit into the picture, particularly with P.J. Fleck an option as both a receiver and special teams contributor.

  4. Does Barlow turn the page on 2004? - Kevan Barlow was given the big contract and handed the feature role last season and promptly disappointed on many levels. But the team is too thin to risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater; so you can be sure that Mike Nolan and his coaches will give Barlow another chance to shape up. Barlow has talent, but must show a commitment to the playbook and a willingness to play through nagging injuries. Rookie Frank Gore could challenge Barlow based on his perceived talents, but given his injury history that's far from a given.

  5. (IDP) The "Mike Rumph" Experiment - Mike Rumph never met a receiver he didn't like to get burned by, which is why the 49ers are hoping he'll be better suited at free safety, a team need. But he must learn the position and prove himself an asset in training camp; nothing is assured.

  6. (IDP) Piecing the 3-4 Together - Like many teams, the 49ers are moving to a 3-4 defensive front this year; the system Mike Nolan utilized so successfully as Baltimore's defensive coordinator. Obviously there's just a little bit of difference between the 49ers talent level and the Ravens, but the foundation for a multi-year rebuilding effort will be laid in camp and that starts with getting everyone familiar with the terminology and scheme.

Seattle Seahawks

Location: Eastern Washington University (Cheney, WA)
Dates: July 29 - August 20
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Will Shaun Alexander be in camp? - Shaun Alexander, the team's franchise player, wants a new deal or he's threatening not to play this season. The two sides are actively negotiating (the team re-opened talks in mid July) but it's a situation that bears watching.

  2. Was losing Koren Robinson addition by subtraction? - The team finally lost patience with Koren Robinson and will open camp with long-time slot receiver Bobby Engram as the starter opposite Darrell Jackson. But with veteran Joe Jurevicius and Jerome Pathon added to the mix, the final depth chart is far from cemented.

  3. Will Robbie Tobeck be replaced? - Robbie Tobeck is getting to a point in his career where he's no longer an effective option as an every week starter. The team added Chris Spencer in the draft, who is Tobeck's long-term replacement. We just don't know when the transition will happen.

  4. Has Itula Mili eaten his way out of Seattle? - The veteran TE weighed 290 pounds in May mini-camp, and Jerramy Stevens has been impressive; will the team finally commit to Stevens as their go-to tight end?

  5. (IDP) Integrating the free agent additions - The team focused on defense in free agency, adding LB Jamie Sharper, CBs Kelly Herndon and Andre Dyson and DE Bryce Fisher. They must fit into an underachieving group for DC Ray Rhodes.

  6. (IDP) Who's the odd man out in the middle? - Many draft pundits scratched their heads at the Seahawks 2nd round selection of LB Lofa Tatupu but by most accounts he will enter camp with a chance to unseat Niko Koutouvides for the starting middle linebacking spot.

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