Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the San Francisco 49ers expect receiver Michael Crabtree to return from injury in time for the regular-season opener against Seattle on Sept. 11. That will likely be the first time Crabtree and fellow receiver Braylon Edwards play together in a game setting. Edwards: "Crab is real smooth. He has great hands. He always catches the ball away from his body. He's smooth in and out of routes. He's very smart. He's very similar to me, but I'm a little taller." Crabtree performed better than expected as a rookie after missing all of training camp and the first six weeks of the regular season. It's tough to believe he will have gone three seasons without experiencing a full training camp.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee outlines five things to watch during the 49ers' exhibition opener against New Orleans on Friday night. On Aldon Smith: "Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio tried to rein in expectations for first-round draft pick Aldon Smith this week, saying that the rookie still has plenty to learn. That's true. But Fangio's caution could not outweight the rave reviews Smith has received from teammates, particularly offensive teammates. Smith has two things you can't teach a rookie -- strength and ferocity. While he's not a starter, he's been getting just as much playing time with the first-team defense as OLBs Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson. The Saints have one of the better offensive lines in the league; how Smith fares against it will be an excellent first test."
Also from Barrows: The 49ers have picked up the pace at practice, according to defensive end Ray McDonald.
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wants "fanatical effort" from his team against the Saints. What might he expect for real games?
Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' new offense excels at disguising its intentions, forcing defenses to play a little more passively, according to defensive end Justin Smith.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times thought Leroy Hill stood out for the Seahawks during their exhibition opener against San Diego. O'Neil: "Hill could be the steal of Seattle's offseason. He has been Seattle's most athletic linebacker since he joined the team in 2005, and watching him back on the field Thursday was a reminder of the speed and violence he brings to the position. If two years of injuries and off-field injuries are behind him, he could be an absolute steal of a signing."
Also from O'Neil: Russell Okung felt "something kind of pop" in his ankle.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com singles out Thomas Clayton's 25-yard touchdown run as the play of the game for Seattle in its exhibition opener. Farnsworth: "Part of what made Clayton’s 25-yard run so impressive was how well not only the line blocked but also the receivers downfield." The way Clayton held the ball aloft and showboated into the end zone reminded me of the time Leon Washington celebrated during a long return against Carolina last season. Clayton got away with it. Washington did not.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks held out receiver Sidney Rice and running back Justin Forsett as precautions. Both could have played. Both have minor injuries. Playing without Rice or fellow receiver Mike Williams affected the options for Tarvaris Jackson and the first-team offense. Third receiver Ben Obomanu also did not play.
Also from Williams: Charlie Whitehurst was generally pleased with his play. Whitehurst: "I think I played OK for the first preseason game. You’re not going to be perfect. But you go out and get into a rhythm, and we did that in the third quarter, and it turned out good."
John Boyle of the Everett Herald says Seattle safety Kam Chancellor impressed in run support, while 6-foot-4 cornerback Brandon Browner made a couple plays on the ball with the No. 2 defense. Boyle: "Brandon Browner was impressive at cornerback with the No. 2 defense, coming up with a couple of pass breakups in one-on-one coverage, including one that prevented a TD late in the second quarter. Browner, who stands an impressive 6-foot-4, has been a star in the CFL for the past five seasons and is hoping to break into the NFL."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on the Cardinals' exhibition opener against Oakland. Somers: "It appears than tight end Todd Heap suffered the only injury on the team: a sprained left thumb in the second quarter. The X-ray was negative and Heap said afterward he would have continued to play had it been a regular season game."
Also from Somers: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't too worried about acquiring another receiver. Whisenhunt: "Everybody wants to talk about the Number 2 receiver but we really don't get caught up in a No. 2. We run so many different packages where we involved three receivers, even four receivers, and there are a lot of times where we'll tailor specific packages to fit the individual strengths of the receiver."
More from Somers: The Cardinals went into their game with low expectations given the limited practice time.
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says Kurt Warner remains popular in retirement.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com said the Cardinals played better than anticipated. Urban: "The Cards went down the field early and often, with six completions of at least 20 yards. John Skelton relieved Kevin Kolb and completed 6-of-10 passes for 94 yards, and then Rich Bartel completed 4-of-9 for 69 yards."
Also from Urban: The Cardinals' receivers made plays.
Dan Caesar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jim Hanifan, 77, is out as a Rams radio analyst. Caesar: "Hanifan, who was the rollicking, highly-charged analyst on Rams radio broadcasts until being removed two seasons ago when he was relegated to the more sterile environment of contributing to pre- and postgame programming, will be gone altogether this year on Rams game-day radio coverage other than a brief taped appearance." The station is expanding roles for Tony Softli and Rick Venturi.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says rookie Lance Kendricks is getting plenty of work with the Rams, including as a starter. Kendricks lined up in the backfield and had one carry during a recent scrimmage. Kendricks: "I did a lot of motion and stuff in the backfield (at Wisconsin), but not as much as now. It's fun, but it's a challenge because you've got to read the defense on the move instead of being stationary. ... I'm just getting adjusted to reading the coverages. In college you don't have to read the coverages as much as in the NFL. You're kind of multi-tasking on the field."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that new Rams linebacker Ben Leber has experience playing strong and weak sides.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams approached this offseason seeking to upgrade their run defense.
Also from Wagoner: positive thoughts from Steven Jackson. Jackson: "Camp is going really good. We’re making some great strides. Sunday we had the scrimmage, I think we saw from a personnel standpoint where we’re going with it. Guys are getting comfortable with some of the language and the formations are different things that…we’ve only had a week to really be in. Guys are really learning at a fast pace and really looking forward to this first preseason game."
D'Marco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis says there should be no doubting Jackson.