Around the NFC West: Rams miss Jackson

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams won't negotiate with running back Steven Jackson until he reports for training camp. According to the story, the Rams weren't expecting a holdout as Jackson entered the final year of his contract. The rhetoric remains civil, but the Rams' stance is a tough one. The team will fine Jackson $15,000 for every day he misses, as is its right under the collective bargaining agreement. It's unclear how long Jackson will stay away.

Bryan Burwell, also of the Post-Dispatch, thinks Jackson would be foolish not to use every ounce of leverage in negotiations, particularly given how the NFL allegedly treats its retired players. Burwell followed up that column with a column saying Jackson should report to camp now that he's made his point. That's what Devin Hester did in Chicago. Jackson and Hester share an agent, but Eugene Parker isn't talking yet.

Nancy Gay of the San Francisco Chronicle makes the case for Frank Gore remaining the centerpiece of the 49ers' offense. The story follows a very logical path, backed with testimony from Marshall Faulk (via Gore) as to the keys for a running back to flourish in a Mike Martz system. A chart at the bottom shows how the leading rushers associated with Martz have fared since 1999. We see one 1,000-yard rusher in the last six seasons under Martz (Steven Jackson in 2005, the year Martz became ill and Joe Vitt coached the team for the final 11 games). Circumstances beyond Martz's control have affected those rushing totals, but I don't recall the Lions complaining about too many running plays with Martz as coordinator the last two seasons.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explains why the Cardinals are going with Matt Leinart over Kurt Warner at quarterback, despite Warner's more impressive stats last season: "He tended to fumble and his gunslinger's mentality isn't a perfect fit with Whisenhunt's offensive philosophy." Whisenhunt does not anticipate using Warner situationally, as he did last season before an injury felled Leinart. Said Whisenhunt: "One thing that seems to be forgotten is that Matt was growing and doing a pretty good job for us, too, when he got hurt."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch details the impressive opening-day performance of rookie receiver Keenan Burton, noting that second-round receiver Donnie Avery remains unsigned. But as Burton notes, he and Avery play different positions within the offense, diminishing a sense of competition. Also: Orlando Pace looked good in his first practice since undergoing shoulder surgery, but cornerback Fakhir Brown left with a shoulder injury (initial diagnosis: not serious).

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Mike Holmgren as the coach enters his final training camp with the team. The nostalgia will have to wait, although Boling did revisit Holmgren's first practice with the team, held in 1999. He noted how Holmgren's influence has turned Seattle into one of the NFL's least-penalized teams, a departure from previous form.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times chronicles the improving vehicle prospects of the Seahawks' first-round draft choice. Jackson has gone from a beater 1996 pickup to a Cadillac Escalade, Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes. O'Neil also checks in with Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson as the Seahawks practice without starting receiver Deion Branch.. We don't know which player would serve as the third receiver while Branch is sidelined, but I would consider Courtney Taylor a leading candidate for that job.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee describes the civil nature of Alex Smith's quarterback competition with Shaun Hill. Said Hill: "When all this first started, Shaun and I kind of sat down and talked about it, joked about it, laughed about it. And I think from there it kind of broke the tension." Hill qualifies as the people's choice, notes Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle caught up with 49ers linebacker Manny Lawson, who said his surgically repaired knee is feeling great. FitzGerald also confirms that the quarterback race between Alex Smith and Shaun Hill does not include J.T. O'Sullivan.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a big-picture look at the first day of Seahawks camp, while Scott M. Johnson of the Everett Herald explains Engram's reasoning for putting aside contract concerns heading into camp. "I'm under contrac
t," Engram said. "I'm going to honor that contract." That's cheaper than losing $15,000 per day to fight a losing battle. The Seahawks had made it clear they weren't excited about extending Engram's deal.