Around the NFC West: Rams, 49ers get physical

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams engaged in full-contact tackling at practice for the first time in years. Running back Steven Jackson, off-limits to significant contact in practice most of his career, was fair game. Cornerback Ron Bartell: "It's a new feel around here. I don't know if you [media] guys can tell. But for us as players, we definitely feel it. And like I said, I think guys are welcoming the challenge. [Steve Spagnuolo] said camp is going to be tough, and we're ready."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' new artificial outdoor surface helped them practice despite rain. Also, linebacker Quinton Culberson hasn't taken a turn with the starters to this point. He entered last season as a starter, but it didn't last long.

More from Coats: Rams linebacker Larry Grant would love to start alongside former Ohio State teammate James Laurinaitis. But once Laurinaitis becomes the starting middle linebacker, Chris Draft could be the leading candidate on the strong side.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams set a physical tone in practice.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says receiver Jason Hill has returned to practice after injuries sidelined him earlier this offseason.

Also from Maiocco: New starting free safety Dashon Goldson is showing why the team moved him into the lineup. That's good news for the 49ers. They need Goldson's speed and athletic ability at the position.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers fans didn't give Alex Smith much slack early in practice Saturday. Seems like Smith should be a sympathetic figure at this point.

Also from Barrows: He saw positive signs for tight end Vernon Davis, who caught quite a few short and intermediate passes.

More from Barrows: an extended piece on Smith's experiences on the first day.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com explains Mike Singletary's thinking behind a physical camp. Linebacker Patrick Willis: "There is just a mindset coach wanted us to get out of that [drill]. Not only is it about being tough, it's about the mindset he wants our team to have -- and that is, we are going to go through people. No matter who stands in our way, we are going to go through them."

Also from 49ers.com: a transcript from Singletary's media session.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes 49ers tackle Marvel Smith as comparing Camp Singletary to training camp under Steelers coach Bill Cowher. Smith: "That intensity is definitely the same. It's like every single play he demanded 100 percent. There's no letdown from beginning to end."

Also from Brown: Singletary says he isn't thinking about Crabtree.

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle says Singletary has no trouble with fans booing Smith or anyone else. Ratto: "Most of all, understand that Singletary wants all the abuse you can muster to be directed at his team. He likes his players on edge, which must be why he wastes so few compliments on them, why he is so quick to quantify the amount of suckage he sees in any given practice, and why he spent almost 20 minutes of the team's 2-hour, 12-minute morning workout talking to them as a group about this shortcoming and that."
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider thinks Michael Crabtree could be the last first-round choice to sign a contract.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic provides an overview from Beanie Wells' first day of training camp. No word yet on the severity of that ankle injury.

Also from Somers: Running back Tim Hightower slimmed down in an effort to break longer runs.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt deserves a pay raise with three years remaining on his contract. Team president Michael Bidwill: "As an organization, you want to be fair and consistent. And we want to be mindful of what we've said to the players. We've told them that we'll address contract extensions at the proper time, and we've suggested that two or three years [out] may be too early. Look, there's a downside to doing it too early, and a downside to waiting too long. But in Ken's contract, we anticipated success. I believed from the very beginning that he'd be a good coach, and in many ways, we've addressed that on the front end of his contract with escalators and bonuses."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com leads his Cardinals notebook by suggesting Wells can't afford to miss time with an injury.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times explains the Seahawks' thinking in moving Cory Redding into the lineup at left end. He also says receiver Courtney Taylor has looked good so far. I've seen lots of receivers start quickly in camp, only to fade away. Can Taylor sustain it?

Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks' new blocking scheme favors interchangeable linemen.

More from O'Neil: A collision be
tween Justin Forsett and David Hawthorne provided a highlight from the Seahawks' late session. Video at seahawks.com.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com provides notes from Saturday practices. The team used at least seven combinations on its offensive line.

Also from Farnsworth: catching up with Walter Jones.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Julius Jones likes the team's one-cut-and-go running style. Jones said he didn't get a chance to show his true abilities last season. He voiced similar complaints upon leaving the Cowboys. If Jones can't become the main man on a team featuring T.J. Duckett and Justin Forsett as alternatives, that one is on him.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune describes the luxurious setting for Seahawks training camp at team headquarters on Lake Washington.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune spoke with Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter about the NFC West. Trotter is picking the Seahawks to win the division. He thinks the Cardinals could struggle in part because "a lot of times what happens to teams, particularly ones with young players, is when they [have] sudden success, the next year they'll struggle some, because they're used to being the hunted instead of the hunter. So it's not the players are any worse, it's just a different mindset." That could be. On the other hand, the Cardinals have the fourth-oldest roster in the league. Most of their top players are veterans.

Also from Williams: The Seahawks think left guard is Rob Sims' natural position. Early reports suggest Sims appears ready to rejoin the upward trajectory his career enjoyed during the final weeks of his rookie season (2006).

More from Williams: T.J. Houshmandzadeh continues to excel in red zone drills.

Still more from Williams: Nate Burleson is having a good camp for Seattle following knee surgery.