Around the NFC West: Cardinals' health key

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals running back Tim Hightower practices kicks once a week in case something happens to Neil Rackers. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "Even though we have fun with it, let's not underestimate the importance of it. If it was a critical extra point and Neil were to get knocked out covering a kick the way he does, it could be something that would be important."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals' relatively good health remains a key for them. Somers: "Coaches and players said a variety of factors have contributed to the Cardinals' good health: the off-season program conducted by John Lott, the strength and conditioning coach; a sensible training camp with a minimal amount of hitting; and players investing time and money for extras, such as stretching coaches and massages. Oh, and a good amount of luck."

Pete McElroy of azcardinals.com examines the team's recent success away from home. Larry Fitzgerald: "There has to be a lot more focus on road. You’re in a hotel room and away from home and out of your routine. When you’re at home … it's a different comfort. When on the road you’re kind of a little on edge and you don’t know what to expect. You kind of have that mentality where you have to throw that first punch and get it going."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says protecting Kurt Warner is critical for the Cardinals against the Giants. The Giants sacked Warner once and hit him 12 times during a victory at Arizona last season.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams could have veteran safety James Butler back in the lineup Sunday. Thomas on receiver Donnie Avery: "After sitting out Wednesday’s practice, WR Donnie Avery (hip) saw limited action on Thursday. He seemed to be running pretty well, although he came up gimpy after diving for a deep ball on one play."

Also from Thomas: Quarterback Kyle Boller is playing the role of Peyton Manning in practice to get the Rams' defense ready for the real thing. Boller makes up some of the calls he barks out at the line of scrimmage. Boller, joking around: "I just lay in bed at night and think about 'em. Today, (the coaches) wanted me to emphasize a couple city names and ice cream flavors. A bunch of the other stuff, I just make up off the top of my head."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tentatively singles out Washington's Jake Locker as the college quarterback best suited for the Rams in the 2010 draft. Miklasz: "Big (6-3), strong and athletic, Locker has a plus arm, and a quick release. He’s been thriving in the pro-style offense installed by first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian. Also, Locker is being tutored by one of the best, QBs coach Steve Clarkson, who in the past has worked with Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart and others. Clarkson cleaned up Locker’s mechanics and the improvement was immediate."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree would have to learn 45-50 plays in preparation for his NFL debut Sunday. Also from Barrows: "It was only a glimpse, but an interesting one nonetheless. As we were waiting for Crabtree to arrive, I saw Jed York giving Steve Mariucci a tour of the facility today. I wasn't covering the team back in 2002, but I do know that Mariucci's firing after that season didn't exactly go smoothly."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is counseling Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford on how to proceed with shoulder rehabilitation. Maiocco: "Smith said he did not lead Bradford in any way, but he said he went through all the scenarios with him. Smith sustained a grade-3 separation, which is similar to the severity of Bradford's injury. Bradford has yet to announce his plans - whether he will have surgery or not. Also, Bradford has a decision after this year to return for his senior season or declare for the NFL draft."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News sizes up the matchup between 49ers cornerback Nate Clements and Texans receiver Andre Johnson. Forget about comparisons to Fitzgerald. Clements: "If you look at it just based on size and weight, they're similar. But they're completely different. They both have strength. Larry Fitzgerald has those excellent hands and he likes to jump up. Andre Johnson can flat-out run. He has good hands, as well, but he's on vertical routes."

The San Francisco Chronicle says voters should support a measure lifting a ban on selling naming rights to Candlestick Park. I doubt passage would help keep the 49ers from exploring stadium options elsewhere, however.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says players plan to get away and refresh their minds during the bye week. Matt Hasselbeck will be attending his kids' soccer games. Hasselbeck on bye weeks: "It’s really nice waking up on Monday morning not feeling like you’ve been in a car wreck."

John Morgan of Field Gulls sizes up Seahawks quarterback Mike Teel, concluding that the rookie needs to become much more consistent. Morgan: "Mike Teel cannot consistently make his passes. Sometimes he steps back, sees his man, cocks, plants and beans the cheerleader. It's not about sailing it or throwing it behind the man, it's about his accurate-to-whiff ratio, and it isn't good. He can zing one to Ben Obomanu in stride and then power a wobbler that bucks and bends like a knuckleball." If Teel were consistent, of course, someone would have drafted him earlier than the sixth round.