Around the NFC West: Can Rams find end zone?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines five things to watch when the Rams face the Bengals. Thomas: "A disturbing trend from the Scott Linehan era has carried over so far into the Steve Spagnuolo regime -- namely, a lack of preseason TDs by the first-team offense. Granted, four starters were missing last week against Atlanta, and three will be out tonight, but it's time for QB Kyle Boller and the starters to find the end zone."

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with backup Rams quarterback Brock Berlin, who is battling rookie Keith Null for a roster spot. The conclusion: "Null might have an edge because he was brought in by the current regime. Berlin, whose only other regular-season passes [three] came off the bench last season against Chicago, is a holdover from the Scott Linehan era. But Berlin, 28, isn't making it easy on Null. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 71 yards and a 130.7 passer rating last Friday against Atlanta. He accounted for the Rams' only touchdown on a 20-yard pass to Derek Stanley in the third quarter."

Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com singles out five things to watch when the Rams face the Bengals in their next exhibition game. Better run defense tops the list.

49ers linebacker Manny Lawson singles out strong safety Michael Lewis as the crankiest player in training camp.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill as downplaying his back injury. Crumpacker: "Hill said his back problem is not related to the fractured transverse process he had in his spine at the end of the 2007 season." Also, Michael Crabtree has missed 37 practices.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers should learn plenty more about rookie quarterback Nate Davis in the coming week.

Also from Maiocco: a few more thoughts on Crabtree. Maiocco: "The deal the 49ers are offering is in the neighborhood of five years, $20 million base, $26.5 million maximum, with $16 million guaranteed. Crabtree and his agent, Eugene Parker, know the 49ers offer, and the 49ers are not willing to move from a deal commensurate with the No. 10 slot."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers struggled on offense without Hill or Alex Smith. Coach Mike Singletary even stopped the session to challenge the offense.

Also from Barrows: more details on just how poorly 49ers practice began. Barrows: "As you might have assumed from the earlier post day, this morning's wasn't the greatest. practice. ever for the 49ers. When the 49ers assembled for their first team drill session, Shaun Hill dropped back, fired a pass to Isaac Bruce that was nearly picked off by Manny Lawson and was done for the day. Damon Huard stepped in on the next play and his pass to J.J. Finely was intercepted by Patrick Willis."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News senses trouble ahead for the 49ers at quarterback. Kawakami: "The 49ers QB situation was sketchy all through camp, now it's injury-affected and sketchy, and in a few weeks it could be sketchy and headed to an emergency search for a long-term replacement."

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Davis finished 49ers practice on a high note. Brown: "On his first snap, the rookie out of Ball State hit tight end Delanie Walker in stride for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Walker got past safety Reggie Smith on a deep route over the middle."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Jerheme Urban could start opposite Larry Fitzgerald in the Cardinals' next exhibition game after Anquan Boldin suffered a hamstring injury. Steve Breaston is already resting a knee injury, though he participated in individual drills Wednesday.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals plan to place Elliot Vallejo on injured reserve once he clears waivers. They think the offensive lineman has potential.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic examines the competitive and adversarial nature of practices pitting offense against defense. Linebacker Karlos Dansby: "Oh, it's true. I am hating them right now. ... They give us a ton of different looks and they try to learn all our techniques, which is making it tough on us. We get along, but damn!"

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the battle between Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells is easily the most intriguing in Cardinals camp. Hightower: "Growing up as a kid, I studied Walter Payton so much. The way he ran back kicks, the way he was fighting for extra yards. Whatever they needed him to do, he did. That's the kind of guy I want to be. A playmaker who they don't want to take off the field."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com wonders if the Seahawks signed Edgerrin James over, say, Warrick Dunn in part because James knows so much about the Cardinals. I do not think Dunn would be more than a situational player at this stage. James has the ability to carry more of the load if needed. I think that was the deciding factor in getting a deal done.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals are stressing accountability on defense, with an emphasis on the little things that have led to big problems.

More from Urban: Injuries at receiver open opportunities for others. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "We'll get a chance to see Jerheme Urban in a starting role, we get to see Lance Long against some [starters], Early Doucet, Sean Morey. It will be a good chance to get work against a good defense and their No. 1 unit."

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 lists five things to watch from the Cardinals in their next exhibition game. Will Wells play?

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks dismissed suggestions Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones might be headed for retirement. Jones likely had some doubts when his knee wasn't responding well early in camp. His outlook is positive following arthroscopic surgery to correct the problem.

Also from Johns: Seahawks coach Jim Mora says the team will be fine in short-yardage situations even after releasing T.J. Duckett. Mora: "Edge and Julius [Jones] and [Justin] Forsett and our passing game, we'll get it done. It's not always about having a big hammer. It's also about having a guy that kind find the crease."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says James is moving past a difficult offseason. Boling: "Andia Denise Wilson, the mother of his four children – ages 11, 7, 4 and 2 – was fighting leukemia, and James needed the time with his family. James and Wilson had known each other since junior high school, and were called 'high-school sweethearts.' Shortly after her death in April, James was waived by the Arizona
Cardinals." Said James: "Football wasn’t something I was concerned with. With what went on this offseason, I just didn’t want to blow it as a parent; I wanted to make sure I had all that under control.”

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune offers highlights from Seahawks practice Wednesday, including information on James' addition, Jones' status and more.

John Morgan of Field Gulls thinks the Seahawks would be mistaken if they tried to replicate the Tampa 2 defense without having the personnel to run it the way the Bucs did when they were most successful. Here is what defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said when I asked him what we'll see from this defense during the regular season: "I think people will think right away when they watch us and they know about me and some of the coaches I was with, 'Oh, you know what, they are doing Tampa system.' And there is probably a lot of similarities as well as some other NFL teams have some similarities. But we have added some things, too. Maybe some things they have done in the past here and tried to break away a little bit from it. I think what differentiates it is the details of the package. The accountability, details and the coaching is what separates it." We'll see what that means.