EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A week into his first NFL training camp, St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam offered a familiar refrain when meeting with the expanded media contingent Tuesday.

"All I'm thinking about is making this team," Sam said. "I'm learning from the guys and I want to make this team. They're teaching me a lot. I'm doing what they're doing. They've been here for seven, eight years. I want to do that as well."

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsThe key to Michael Sam securing a roster spot may be his ability to play on special teams.
Sam has been unwavering in that mantra since he returned to St. Louis for the start of camp. Almost since the time the Rams used the 249th overall pick on Sam in May, there have been plenty of questions about whether or not that goal of making the 53-man roster is realistic. Terms like long shot or outside chance have been thrown around.

But as this training camp rolls along, Sam's route to making the roster has gained clarity. Although the Rams have eight defensive linemen that are all but certain to make the roster in Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Aaron Donald and Alex Carrington, they have kept nine in each of the two years under coach Jeff Fisher and Les Snead.

It's no sure thing they'll do that again this year but it remains a strong possibility. Which means it's not Sam's job to try to beat out established depth like Hayes or Sims. No, his competition comes in the form of undrafted rookie types such as tackles Deantre Harlan and Ethan Westbrooks and holdover Matt Conrath.

Westbrooks entered camp as Sam's primary competition for a potential ninth spot on the defensive line but that hasn't manifested because Westbrooks is on the non-football injury list and has yet to practice.

More important than what others aren't doing, though, is what Sam is doing. Getting plenty of reps as the second-team left defensive end while Hayes works back from surgeries, Sam has pieced together some strong practices. The highlight was an eye-catching effort Saturday when he consistently beat tackle Sean Hooey in one-on-one pass-rush and team drills.

"He’s improving," Fisher said. "[Defensive line] coach [Mike] Waufle is doing a great job … with his hand usage and placement things and so, he’ll just keep working at it.”

Improved pass-rushing traits will do nothing but help Sam's chances of landing a roster spot, especially if he can translate that work into preseason games.

Sam's biggest advantage when stacking up against the other linemen vying for jobs, though, is his ability to help on special teams.

Sam has been a staple of most special-teams drills, getting a lot of work blocking for the punt return and kick return units. He dropped 13 pounds to get down to 257 so he could run faster to cover kicks and punts as well.

During Monday's special-teams-only practice, Sam made a strong impression on coach John Fassel and even caught himself off guard a bit.

"I'm kind of surprised myself at how good it went because I haven't played special teams in two years," Sam said. "So I thought I did great."

That's a sentiment shared by Fassel, who specifically noted Sam's ability as a blocker on the return units. Perhaps that should come as no surprise for Sam, who played offensive tackle in addition to his defensive duties at Hitchcock (Texas) High.

“At the end of the last competitive drill he did a really good job as a blocker," Fassel said. "I can see him being a good guy on punt return and kickoff return as a blocker.”

For Sam to achieve his goal and make the roster, there is still plenty of work to be done. Now that the Rams are in pads, he'll need to continue to improve his pass rush and look to offer more than his favored speed rush to bend the edge. And while the lost weight has been beneficial in terms of his short-area speed, Fassel would like to see him maintain it longer so he can run down kicks.

Sam remains unconcerned with increased media attention and the like in pursuit of a roster spot.

“My goal is still just to make this team, whether I was a first-round pick or a free agent," Sam said. "My job is to make this team. Whether you guys are here or not, that’s my goal.’’

It's a goal that remains uncertain but at least the path to reach it has become more clear.

 

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
10:00
AM ET
video
The NFC West had three teams that won at least 10 games last season, two teams in the NFC Championship Game and a team that won the Super Bowl by 35 points.

Consequently, there is no lack of confidence about the 2014 season for the teams in this division. Three of them -- the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals -- can make a legitimate argument for winning the division title.

But until the 49ers or the Cardinals prove otherwise, the Seahawks are the clear favorites, not only to win the division crown but to return to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks, however, realize the biggest obstacle to repeating as Super Bowl winners lies within their own division. The NFC West is widely regarded as the best division in the NFL. It's also the most physical division in the league, which means the division rivals tend to beat up on each other.

Here's how Seahawks reporter Terry Blount, St. Louis Rams reporter Nick Wagoner, Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson see each team finishing in 2014:

First Down

What will the 49ers' record be and why?



Terry Blount: 12-4. The 49ers have a shiny new stadium, which I see them taking full advantage of and probably going unbeaten at home. Their home game against the Seahawks comes on Thanksgiving night, which likely will be a frenzied holiday crowd in front of a national TV audience. However, I don't see things going quite as smoothly on the road. I have the 49ers losing at Arizona, Denver, New Orleans and Seattle. The key for San Francisco is how the team performs in a five-game midseason stretch that includes four road games -- St. Louis, Denver, New Orleans and the New York Giants. The 49ers do have a bye week in that stretch, but how they get through the middle part of the schedule will determine their fate.

Nick Wagoner: 11-5. It's awfully tempting to elevate the 49ers above the Seahawks, especially after a productive offseason in which San Francisco bolstered its offense by retaining Anquan Boldin, trading for Stevie Johnson and drafting talented young playmakers Bruce Ellington and Carlos Hyde. Not to mention Michael Crabtree is healthy. It wouldn't surprise anyone to see Colin Kaepernick take a big step forward with all of those weapons at his disposal. However, it's fair to wonder if the Niners' defense can continue its dominance. They'll certainly miss NaVorro Bowman early and they have some pieces to replace in the secondary. Mostly, it's picking nits when it comes to the Niners, and I see no reason to believe this team isn't going to be a serious Super Bowl contender again.

Josh Weinfuss: 10-6. This may be a bit on the nice side, considering the run of injuries to running backs since training camp started, but I think the 49ers' passing game and Colin Kaepernick's feet will make up for at least one game they'll lose because of a depleted running game. San Francisco plays a brutal schedule, facing the Cowboys, Bears, Cardinals, Eagles and Chiefs in its first five games. I don't think the road will be kind to the Niners this year, especially in the NFC West. The magic is running out for Jim Harbaugh one injury at a time.

Bill Williamson: I'm going to say the 49ers will be 12-4. They are a top team. But it's difficult to predict any team finishing higher than 12-4, although it wouldn't shock me if San Francisco finished with a better record. As long as quarterback Colin Kaepernick stays healthy, and there are no more big injuries on defense, San Francisco will win its share of games. It is a very deep and well-coached team. It knows how to win consistently. I fully expect San Francisco to start hot and stay hot.


Second Down

What will the Cardinals' record be and why?



Blount: 11-5. Yes, by picking the Cardinals to win 11 games, it means I'm picking the highly unusual occurrence of three teams in one division winning 11 or more games. But I believe the NFC West is that good. Arizona won 10 games last season. The offense should be better this season with quarterback Carson Palmer having a full year in the system and an improved offensive line. I actually thought this team could move ahead of the 49ers this year, but losing inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington is a huge blow to the defense. The biggest problem for Arizona is ending the regular season with back-to-back games against Seattle and at San Francisco. The Cardinals also have to play Seattle twice in their last six games. They will need to split those two games, and probably win on the road at Atlanta and St. Louis down the stretch, to reach the 11-win plateau.

Wagoner: 7-9. This is probably the most difficult team to predict in the division. The Cardinals finished 2013 on such a high note that it would be easy to believe they can roll that over after a productive offseason. But it all really comes down to quarterback Carson Palmer and whether he can withstand the inevitable pressure that will come from some outstanding defenses on the schedule. The offensive line looks to be improved but still has to prove it on the field. The Cardinals could be very good defensively again, and they have some exciting pieces in the secondary; however, the loss of linebacker Daryl Washington will hurt, and they haven't gotten much younger upfront, where it might be expecting too much from older guys such as Darnell Dockett and John Abraham to duplicate their success of the recent past. Adding a difficult schedule to the mix leaves Arizona taking a bit of a step back in 2014.

Weinfuss: 10-6. There's a lot that can go right for Arizona this year, but there's a lot that can go wrong. I think the Cardinals will start hot -- building on last season's success -- and win five of their first six. I wouldn't be surprised if they continue to tear through, but their schedule is backloaded. By midseason, offenses will figure out how to exploit the middle of the defense, which was decimated by the losses of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington. But Arizona's offense should be potent enough to make up for any issues on defense, which will be few and far between, and simply outscore opponents.

Williamson: I'm going with 10-6. The Cardinals had 10 wins last season and may be better in their second season under coach Bruce Arians. But I still don't think Arizona is an elite team. Saying this team will take the next step and get to 12-4 is a bit of a stretch for me, although I love the Cardinals' defense. I think Carson Palmer is a solid fit for this team. But he's still Carson Palmer. He will still ruin a few games with some untimely interceptions. Arizona is good, not great, and a 10-6 record is a solid showing by a good team.


Third Down

What will the Rams' record be and why?



Blount: 6-10. This is my real shocker pick of the bunch because I'm sure most people see the Rams as a much better team than 6-10. St. Louis has an outstanding young defense, but the problem for the Rams is they play in the NFC West. Going through the division games, I don't see St. Louis doing better than 1-5. If the Rams can go 3-3 in the division, 8-8 or better is a possibility. But St. Louis just isn't on the same tier as the other three teams in the NFC West, not yet anyway. Maybe once the Rams move back to Los Angeles that will change. OK, I'm having a little futuristic fun there.

Weinfuss: 7-9. Welcome back, Sam. You'll be returning to play in the best division in football, plus you get to play a slew of playoff teams, including the reigning AFC champion Broncos. The improvements on St. Louis' defensive line will help the Rams early, but I think it'll take some time for the offense to regain any form under Bradford. The Rams could go 3-5 during the first half of the season and find a rhythm during the final eight games, splitting them 4-4. If the vaunted NFC East plays like the division of old, the Rams could struggle to hit even that record, but their young core of receivers should help ease Bradford's return at least a little.

Wagoner: 8-8. This is the season the Rams have targeted for a breakthrough since coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took over in 2012. They've gone through a massive roster makeover in that time and have built this team into one that is bursting with potential, but still lacking in production. This is the season the Rams hope upside makes the transition to something more tangible, namely more wins. But it's still hard to see this team making the leap this particular year against an imposing schedule and the league's toughest division. Quarterback Sam Bradford returns from a knee injury, which should help but to what extent remains to be seen. The defensive line is probably the best and deepest in the NFL, and with Gregg Williams at coordinator, the defense should be able to keep the Rams in games. Once again, the onus to get the Rams to the next level falls on the offense. Beyond Bradford, the Rams have a talented offensive line but one that is dotted with injury questions at nearly every position. They should be able to run the ball effectively, but at some point the passing game will have to do its part. The receivers and tight ends won't be asked to carry too much freight, but that mostly young group has to be better and more consistent for the Rams to have success. Fisher has a history of getting teams to right at or around the .500 mark, as he's done his first two seasons in St. Louis. There is enough talent in place for this team to take the next step, but until we see it actually coalesce, it's hard to predict more than mediocrity.

Williamson: I'm saying 7-9. Look, the Rams' defense -- especially the defensive line -- is nasty good. St. Louis will win games on defense. But I worry about the offense. Yes, the Rams went 7-9 in 2013 with quarterback Sam Bradford hurt for much of the season. So, a healthy Bradford could make a difference. But I just don't see Bradford as a major difference-maker, anyway. Plus, the truth is, the Rams are the worst team in a very strong division. It is going to be tough piling up wins in the NFC West, and the Rams could suffer.


Fourth Down

What will the Seahawks' record be and why?



Blount: 13-3. It's been a while since any NFL team was coming off a Super Bowl and could realistically say it might be in better position to win it all now than they were a season ago, but that's the case for the Seahawks. This still is a young and deeply talented team that probably hasn't peaked yet. The receiving corps will be better this season with a healthy Percy Harvin, and the sky is the limit for quarterback Russell Wilson, who is starting only his third NFL season. The final seven games are as difficult as I've ever seen for a defending Super Bowl champ. Seattle closes with five NFC West games in the final seven, including two against the 49ers and two with the Cardinals. The Seahawks also have road games at Kansas City and Philadelphia in that stretch. How they close it out will determine whether they win the division title, and it's almost mandatory if they hope to get back to the Super Bowl.

Weinfuss: 9-7. I think the Super Bowl hangover will hit the Seahawks immediately this season, especially with Green Bay and Denver bookending their first three games. That stretch, in which I think they start 1-2, will set the tone for the rest of the season. Seattle will undoubtedly string together some wins -- I have them winning five of six in the middle of the season -- but the final seven games feature five against NFC West teams. The other two? Just against Philadelphia and Kansas City, both of whom made the playoffs a year ago. Seattle will be a different team without its free-agent departures.

Wagoner: 12-4. On paper, the defending champions remain the class of the division. They handled their business in the offseason, prioritizing their own and keeping the ones they deemed most important. The defense should be dominant again with most of the key pieces returning and the Legion of Boom largely intact. Offensively, it's probably safe to assume quarterback Russell Wilson will continue to get better and the passing game to expand. Marshawn Lynch still has plenty in the tank and the Seahawks have some good young alternatives behind him. Seattle was able to get it done without Percy Harvin for almost all of last season, but with Golden Tate gone to Detroit, the Seahawks will need Harvin to be available and contribute consistently. The team's biggest weakness, the offensive line, will need to be better and could be with some improved health, but the Seahawks got it done behind a similar line in 2013. As with any team, injuries could severely hamper Seattle's run, especially after it lost some of its better depth players in the offseason. But all things considered, this was one of the youngest teams in the league a year ago and went on to win the Super Bowl. There's little reason to think that talent will regress with the experience and confidence that comes from the run it made in 2013.

Williamson: I'm going with 12-4. Would I be surprised if the Seahawks went 14-2? No, but a 12-4 season is a great effort and I will start there, much like the 49ers. The Seahawks could easily go 8-0, or stumble once, at most, in the first half of the season. But Seattle isn't a great road team. It can be beaten on the road, especially by teams such as the 49ers, Panthers, Chargers, Chiefs, Panthers, Eagles and Cardinals. My guess is the Seahawks go 7-1 at home and 5-3 on the road.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Blaine Gabbert became a 49er to learn behind fellow 2011 quarterback draftee Colin Kaepernick.

Gabbert
Gabbert
The San Francisco 49ers traded for Gabbert this offseason with the idea of having a reliable backup for Kaepernick and an opportunity to work with Gabbert, who flopped as Jacksonville’s quarterback after being the No. 10 overall pick in the draft.

Part of Gabbert’s job will be to pick up some of Kaepernick’s ability to learn the 49ers’ offense quickly. Coach Jim Harbaugh believes it’s working, but Gabbert still has a ways to go to catch up to Kaepernick.

“He’s showing all the signs of developing quite rapidly and executing very well, sharp in all mental facets in terms of knowing all the plays, and he’s come along,” Harbaugh said. “Colin is farther ahead by an amount where I would say it like this -- Blaine is very smart and he knows the plays, he already has picked up many of the nuances. But Kaep’s at a different level.

"Where Colin’s at a level of the highest level where he can auto correct, as you know, auto correcting in the texting or whatever. Even if a coach makes a mistake, it's wrong in the script, the play is called into him wrong, he just auto corrects it and doesn’t ask, ‘Hey, is that right or is that wrong?’ It’s at the highest level. You just have never seen it, in my experience, like the way he does it right now. It’s great with a capital g, at the highest level, and Blaine’s coming along.”

Harbaugh said he has talked to Gabbert about the process and let him know it will take time. Kaepernick, the No. 36 overall pick in 2011, has taken time to master it.

“I’ve always said, six months later you’re going to be very far along in this system, but not as far along as you will be after a year, and after two years you’ll most likely be an expert in this system,” Harbaugh said.
video
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There wasn't much Patrick Peterson wasn't proud of Wednesday as he discussed his record-setting $70 million extension.

He was especially pleased with his ability to not let the media in on how close he and the Arizona Cardinals were getting to striking a deal during the past few weeks.

"I'm definitely happy that this is over with. This is definitely a relief," Peterson said. "I kept a pretty [good] poker face with you guys the last couple weeks."

Peterson said the negotiations were on his mind as the Cardinals reported to Glendale on Friday for the start of training camp. It was hard for him to forget about it, however. Questions about an extension were constant whenever Peterson met with the media at camp but Peterson stuck to his message: He had two years left on his deal and if an extension didn't get done, so be it, he would still focus on football.

"That's exactly who he is," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "We were working hard behind the scenes. He's a football player. He controls football. Let the business people control the business. You would never have noticed it was even an issue in the last three weeks."

That's how Peterson wanted it.

He was adamant about his looming extension becoming a focal point or a distraction in the locker room during camp. Arians was hoping a deal would get done before the regular season began, but if it didn't Arians would've marched on, answering the questions.

Peterson and his coach were relieved when a deal was struck.

"It obviously gets rid of a potential distraction media wise," Arians said. "Never been a distraction for Patrick on the field or us in the locker room."

During the past few weeks, significant progress was being made as a deal got closer. But, reportedly there were still significant holdups as recently as the past 48 hours. Both sides -- the Cardinals and Peterson's agents -- handled each "obstacle," as general manager Steve Keim called them, as they came. By Tuesday night, all the obstacles appeared to be taken care of, and a negotiation that began when the 2013 season ended was over.

"As we got closer, I got more and more excited about it," Keim said.

When asked if he wanted to get the deal done before the season, Keim said there were peaks and valleys. Peterson told USA Today this week that if a deal wasn't done by Week 1, negotiations would have been tabled until after the season. He knew at the time that an extension was imminent but Peterson also had seen how long it took to get this far, so nothing was over until it was over.

"When you do a deal of this magnitude it takes some time," he added. "And there were always issues that we had to address but I know this: At the end of the day, both sides feel extremely excited about the deal."

49ers Camp Report: Day 6

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
9:20
PM ET
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the San Francisco 49ers training camp:


  • 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said running back LaMichael James is confident he can come back quickly from a dislocated elbow. This is James’ third dislocated elbow since high school. He returned quickly both times. He was injured Sunday and is estimated to be out four weeks.
  • Second-year outside linebacker Corey Lemonier is noticeably stronger in the upper body this training camp. Lemonier said he put on about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason to get up to 253 pounds. Lemonier worked out with 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith in the offseason. Lemonier has been impressive in camp, showing a great burst. Lemonier played well when he and Dan Skuta filled in for Aldon Smith when Smith was in a treatment center for five games last season. Lemonier will surely be part of the mix if Smith is suspended by the NFL. Skuta worked with the first team while Lemonier worked with the second unit Wednesday while Smith was in Los Angeles tending to a legal matter.
  • It was a good day for the defense, especially the secondary. Lots of strong play by the backups, including Perrish Cox and first-round pick Jimmie Ward. Starters Tramaine Brock (ankle) and Chris Culliver (knee) have been sitting out the past few practices, and the youngsters are taking advantage. There have been plenty of questions about the 49ers’ cornerbacks, but they’ve shown well in camp. I look forward to seeing them in the preseason.
  • Receiver Michael Crabtree departed practice early for an undisclosed reason. If it was injury related, it didn't appear serious. Fellow receiver Jonathan Baldwin didn’t appear on the practice field Wednesday.
  • Second-year defensive tackle Quinton Dial continued to have a great camp. He is always around the ball. The fifth-round pick could be a steal.
  • Rookie running back Carlos Hyde was returning kicks with James out. I have a feeling the 49ers will deem Hyde too valuable on offense to use him on kick returns, at least early in the season.
  • Harbaugh said he offered a scholarship to tackle Michael Philipp, who the 49ers claimed on waivers Tuesday from Miami, several years ago. However, Philipp went to Oregon State instead. Now, the two unite.
  • Harbaugh said running back Alfonso Smith didn’t have to finish his full workout Monday before the team decided to sign him. Harbaugh is excited the way Smith is approaching the opportunity, but I'd still deem him a long-shot to make the 53-man roster.
  • Injured undrafted rookie offensive lineman Fou Fonoti cleared waivers and is now on the 49ers’ injured reserve.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:15
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • Justin Bethel's ascent up the depth chart continued Wednesday. With Antonio Cromartie out with a pectoral injury, Bethel was part of the Cardinals' nickel and dime packages. He played wide corner in both schemes, with Jerraud Powers playing nickel back. In base, Powers has filled in for Cromartie at corner opposite Patrick Peterson. Bethel had an interception late in practice and showed his speed weaving between offense players. Bethel might have made the most improvement among his teammates this offseason and it should pay off with more opportunities to earn playing time.
  • Even though he’s dealing with a calf injury and didn’t dress for practice, Lyle Sendlein played center for Carson Palmer during 7-on-7 drills. The more Sendlein can continue to work with Palmer during non-contact drills, the more they can keep up the connection they’ve developed over the past year.
  • During an early drill, Bruce Arians called over Peterson and discussed arm and hand placement during press coverage. Even though Peterson just signed a $70 million extension, he’s not immune from a little coaching.
  • Anthony McCloud played nose tackle with the first team during most of Wednesday’s practice. Dan Williams is expected to return Friday, when the Cardinals practice next.
  • All of Arizona’s tight ends have looked good during camp thus far. Rookie Troy Niklas, still playing with a soft cast on his right hand, made an impressive catch for a touchdown through three defensive backs.
  • The kicking battle continued, with incumbent starter Jay Feely making all eight of his kicks. By my count, Danny Hrapmann made three-of-four.
  • LB Ernie Sims didn't practice Wednesday. Neither did RB Damien Thigpen.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers pass-rusher Aldon Smith was not at the team’s training camp Wednesday because he is in Los Angeles to close the case from an April incident at Los Angeles International Airport.

A spokesman from the L.A. City Attorney’s office said a hearing was ongoing Wednesday as scheduled and an NFL source said Smith was in Los Angeles. Coach Jim Harbaugh said Smith wasn’t with the team, but would only say, “It’s part of a process.”

The City Attorney’s office decided earlier this month Smith would not face misdemeanor charges stemming from an arrest for allegedly making a fake bomb threat at LAX in April.

The hearing's purpose is to provide Smith the opportunity to give his account of the incident. He will then be admonished about the applicable laws and given suggestions on how to avoid similar incidents in the future, a spokesman wrote in an email. The City Attorney reserves the right to file charges up to one year after the incident. However, no further action is scheduled beyond the office hearing date.

Smith said last week he is expected to fly to New York at a date to be determined to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his recent off-field issues. A league suspension could soon follow. Smith received 11 days on a work crew earlier this month for a drunken driving arrest.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After running on fumes the final weeks of his rookie season in 2012, St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein vowed to come back stronger to withstand the grind of the NFL season in 2013.

Surely enough, Zuerlein appeared to get stronger as his second season rolled along. While punter Johnny Hekker and the punt-cover team rightly earned most of the accolades, Zuerlein's season was quite good in its own right.

Zuerlein
And, like last year at this time, there are ways in which Zuerlein can get better, according to special teams coach John Fassel.

“He’ll probably tell you, (he can improve) a lot," Fassel said. "He’s tweaked just minimally a few things, but we don’t want to change them at all because I keep saying that I was really proud of him, really the last three, four weeks of the season.

"I thought he was stronger the last month than at any point in his first year or even after and up until that point. So, there’s some things … we’re working off on kickoff, as well and on field goals. He knows his leg strength is dynamite and we’re working on putting it right down the middle every time so its good.”

Zuerlein generated a lot of excitement as a rookie for his ability to connect on a variety of long-distance field goals. He set franchise records in the opening weeks of that season but soon began to run low on gas. Part of those late-season struggles were directly related to the fact that he'd had little opportunity to rest his leg in the time after the draft process leading into the season.

At the outset of last season, Fassel set out to monitor Zuerlein's activity so that he would have plenty left to get through the season. It paid off as Zuerlein went 26-of-28 on field goals and made all of his 34 extra-point attempts.

It also didn't hurt that Zuerlein didn't find himself trying to make field goals close to 60 yards on a regular basis. His longest make was from 54 yards out, which was also his longest attempt of the season.

While Fassel mentions working on improved kickoffs -- Zuerlein managed a touchback on 66.7 percent of his kickoffs in 2013 -- he could also stand to improve in key situations.

It was an area in which Zuerlein proved capable as a rookie when he made 53 and 54 yard field goals to tie and beat San Francisco late in the season. But while it's unfair to expect perfection on field goals, Zuerlein's two misses in 2013 were costly. His miss in a 14-9 loss to Seattle on Oct. 28, in particular, prevented the Rams from being able to set up a chip-shot field goal to win. And he missed a week later against Tennessee in another close game.

But that's all part of his continued growth, growth that Fassel believes is only going to continue.

“It was significant," Fassel said. "And then Year 2, the improvement from the beginning of the season to the end of the season was there, too, which was good.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Carson Palmer took every snap of the 2013 season from one center.

So, when Lyle Sendlein went down early in Monday’s Arizona Cardinals practice with a calf injury, it was expected that Palmer would need time to adjust to his new center, Ted Larsen. Palmer fumbled their first snap, but after that, Palmer found Larsen’s sweet spot and their snaps were seamless for the rest of practice.

Sendlein
Larsen
“You get so used to one guy and then all of a sudden another guy comes in, you just got to find out where to put your hands and where where he consistently snaps the ball,” Palmer said. “And Ted snaps it consistently to one spot, and I found the spot, and it’s not an issue anymore.”

Sendlein is expected to miss the next three weeks, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday morning. He’s aiming to have Sendlein, an eight-year veteran who went undrafted out of Texas, back for the third or fourth preseason game. That will give Sendlein and Palmer a chance to rekindle their routine.

“Lyle’s as integral a part of this offense as anybody is,” Palmer said. “He’s very, very underrated. (He’s) been a very good player for a long time. Really, really smart, very poised. Helps everybody out around him. So, when you lose that guy, it’s obviously a blow, but it’s a great opportunity.”

For the next few weeks, Larsen will be in charge of dictating protections and making sure there’s a smooth exchange at center. Until Monday, when Larsen replaced Sendlein, he practiced as a backup guard and occasionally at center. Larsen has started 31 of 60 career games, but playing with the first team this week has been a reminder of how competitive the first team is.

“It’s a lot more competition,” Larsen said. “It’s the ones, so it’s fast.”

Palmer said Larsen’s camp experience will benefit 27-year-old, especially after Sendlein returns. Larsen isn’t expected to be a starter this year, but he’ll likely be kept on the roster as the backup swing guard and center.

“I think when Lyle does get back, it’ll make him a better guard just having that experience at center,” Palmer said. “Making the calls, being the guy that everybody’s listening to and then when you go back to guard, you’re probably making the same calls at the same time Lyle is just because of the experience he has there.”

It will be tough for Palmer and Larsen to recreate the chemistry that Palmer shares with Sendlein, but Palmer isn’t concerned about Sendlein falling behind during the most important time of camp. If adjustments are made to blocking schemes or the offense, Sendlein has been absorbing those from the sideline.

Having a few weeks off from camp while still being engaged mentally is a good thing for Sendlein, Arians said.

“He’s a veteran. He knows what he’s doing,” Arians said. “It’s a blessing in a lot of ways. He stays healthier and some young guys get a lot of good reps.”
RENTON, Wash. -- Veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston is 30 years old and the president of the NFL Players’ Association. After eight seasons and 119 consecutive starts, he wanted to be sure he was doing the right thing before continuing his career.

Winston
"I’ve been searching for the right situation and what I felt was best," said Winston, who signed with the Seahawks Tuesday. "I know they are definitely capable of winning here and winning big. It was exciting to think I could get a chance to play in some big games I’ve never played in before."

Winston (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) is insurance for the Seahawks at the right tackle spot. They have rookie Justin Britt taking the first-team snaps. The man who was expected to compete with Britt (second-year player Michael Bowie) has been out with shoulder injury.

With Winston’s presence, the Seahawks know they have a quality veteran they can use if they need him.

"We were just looking for depth and a competitive guy to come in and fill the spot," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We’re very young in the backup guys. Michael has been slowed down a little bit. Eric’s done a lot of playing in his time, so we’ll see how that works out. We’re glad to have him out here battling."

Winston started all 16 games last season for Arizona. He played for Kansas City in 2012, but spent the first six seasons of his career in Houston, where he makes his home.

"I’ve been sweating it out down there working out," Winston said. "I’ve never been around Seattle. What a gorgeous place. What great scenery. The lunch room [at the VMAC], you walk in and see the lake. It doesn’t get too much better than that, so yeah, it’s exciting to be here."

Winston also said he will do all he can to help Britt learn the position.

"I think anytime you become a vet in this league, you’ve got an obligation to the young guys to help them and teach them," Winston said. "If Britt wants me to do that, then I’ll do it. I’ll be here for him to help him, that’s for sure."
video
RENTON, Wash. -- There has been a lot of confusion over the fines Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is incurring, so here a few of the main points:

As of Tuesday, Lynch was subject to losing 15 percent of his $6 million signing bonus, however, that's on a pro-rated basis per year. So Lynch incurred a $225,000 fine on Tuesday. He can be fined another 1 percent of his bonus per each day he misses going forward, up to 25 percent of the bonus.

Lynch also is subject to a $30,000 fine for each day of camp he misses, which was up to $180,000 as of Tuesday. That’s a total of $405,000 in fines, so far.

Lynch will not lose a regular-season game check for each preseason game he misses, which is the rule now under the collective bargaining agreement. But Lynch signed his contract before that CBA rule went into effect.

The fines add up quickly now, however, all these fines could become a moot point. The fines are at the team's discretion. So if Lynch said he would return to the team as long as all his fines were waived, the Seahawks could agree and he would owe them nothing.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Forget for a moment the freakish athleticism. Put aside the elite speed. Don't acknowledge the explosive ability to transition from quickness to power.

All of those things combine to form the pass rushing terror that is St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn.

Now consider Quinn just turned 24 in May and members of his coaching staff still believe him to be something of a pass rushing neophyte.

[+] EnlargeRobert Quinn
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoDespite a 19-sack 2013 season, Rams end Robert Quinn still says there are areas of his game he wants to continue working on.
That thought is where a full night's rest for offensive coordinators and tackles goes to die.

"It's scary for offensive tackles, not scary for us," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He's got a great future ahead of him."

Quinn's past and present are none too shabby in their own right. Now entering his fourth season, Quinn's breakout 2013 caught on as fast as he bends the edge around helpless offensive tackles. By the time Quinn was through destroying offensive game plans, he had 57 tackles, 19 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Quinn earned first-team All-Pro honors and made his first trip to the Pro Bowl. In about a year, he's not only landed on various top players lists but found himself near the top. Grantland's Bill Barnwell ranked Quinn as the seventh-most valuable player in the league in his trade value rankings. ESPN's Mike Sando and Mel Kiper Jr. placed Quinn second on their list of the 25 best players under 25 years old.

But the scary part of Quinn's age isn't the number itself so much as the potential for continued growth that accompanies it.

Put simply, Quinn can and will get better. For proof, one needs only to see his growth as a run defender in 2013. While his pass rushing abilities have never been a question mark, his struggles against the run often resulted in a rotation which took him out of the mix on obvious running downs.

Quinn clearly improved in that regard in 2013, coming up with 26 run stuffs (solo tackles on plays considered an offensive failure) according to Pro Football Focus.

That's also the area of his game Quinn still sees in need of most improvement. Quinn spent his offseason working on a little bit of everything. He says he added strength and made it a point to work on increasing leverage and hand usage.

"(I want to) be more stout in the run," Quinn said. "I'm a smaller end so they might attack me a little more, so I constantly want to push myself to be the best complete player I can be and try to take any weakness out of my game."

While Quinn's ability to stop the run is important, let's be real here, it's his ability to get after quarterbacks that will earn him a mega payday. For the record, the Rams have him under control for less than $10 million total over the next two seasons, but don't be surprised if the Rams start extension talks with him next offseason.

When that time comes, however, there's a very real chance Quinn will have done nothing but increase his standing as the league's best 4-3 defensive end.

Quinn's speed off the edge and agility to bend around tackles is so jarring that he often beats offensive tackles by simply running around them. But there are ways he can better use his hands to disengage blockers, and he'd like to add more counter moves to his arsenal.

"Pass rushing is an art and you can get better at it," Fisher said. "You can anticipate, you can get better with counter moves, get better on each opponent. He's taking a lot of time, studying, and I think he knows how to approach each opponent week in and week out, he understands the system very well. One would think he'd probably have better numbers than he did last year."

Improving upon 2013 will be tough but if he can do it, Quinn has a chance to approach Michael Strahan's season sack record of 22.5.

One way that could be possible is for the Rams to more consistently build a lead in games. Nine of Quinn's sacks came with the Rams leading and four more came in tied games in 2013.

On the rare occasions when the Rams held a double-digit advantage, Quinn was at his best. Six of his final eight sacks came with the Rams leading by at least 10.

And though Quinn figures to draw more attention from blockers, the Rams have plenty of other linemen more than capable of generating pressure and a defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams who can create it with blitzes if necessary.

Fellow end William Hayes, who is part of that defensive line depth, doesn't believe additional attention will affect Quinn. He's just too much to handle.

"Rob's not just cool with what he had last year," Hayes said. "Rob wants to be the best. Rob's the best football player I've ever seen in my life. I'm saying at any position. He does stuff I've never seen. He's special."

In discussing his goals for 2014, Quinn has played coy. He offered a resounding "maybe" when first asked if he was targeting Strahan's record. After asking if he could plead the fifth when asked again, Quinn acknowledged that it's at least crossed his mind.

"I'm sure any D-lineman or anybody coming for sacks wants to take down that record but you've got to go one sack at a time," Quinn said. "I've got a lot of work to do to better myself."

For those who stand in his way, it's a terrifying idea. What makes it worse is that it's true.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- This will be Colin Kaepernick's second full season as an NFL starting quarterback. He is showing the leadership of a quarterback in charge of his offense.

Jones
Kaepernick
Tuesday, Brandon Lloyd told reporters Kaepernick watches film with the receivers, pointing out target spots and expressing his thoughts on specific plays. Kaepernick said it is part of the growing process at his position.

"The coaches have a lot more confidence in me doing that," Kaepernick said. "I think I have a lot more confidence doing that now as far as making sure that we're on the same page and we're seeing the same thing when we're on the field. Because, ultimately when we step out there there's not going to be a coach out there telling you to run the route like this. It's going to be you and the receiver. So, you have to have that communication."

Here are some other topics Kaepernick touched on in his media session Tuesday:

On connecting with his new teammate Lloyd: "He has pretty easy body language to read and for the most part normally, he's open by a step or two. So, that makes it a lot easier, too."

On having a healthy Michael Crabtree this season: "Even the end of last season he wasn't 100 percent and he was making plays for us. I'm excited to see what he's going to do now that he's 100 percent. ... He's a step or two quicker now. He has burst out of his routes. He has burst when he catches the ball. He looks really good out there."

On rookie receiver Bruce Ellington: "He's looked great when he's been out there. He's been on top of it mentally, which is a huge thing as a rookie. He doesn't play like a rookie. He's not out there thinking about things or worried about making mistakes. He's playing fast, he's making plays, so we're excited about him."
video
There are a few things in life worth paying for: shoes, pillows and haircuts.

In football, a young, talented, charismatic lockdown cornerback might just be near the top of that list. The Arizona Cardinals showed Patrick Peterson how much they thought he was worth Tuesday night. Peterson tweeted that he and the Cardinals had agreed on a five-year contract extension worth $70 million that includes $48 million guaranteed.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesPatrick Peterson, a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, will remain with the Cardinals after agreeing to a five-year contract extension.
Apparently, the future costs a lot.

In Peterson, the Cardinals have the player they can build a franchise around for the foreseeable future.

With the NFL primarily a passing league, having a cornerback who has shutdown capabilities and isn't afraid of an offense's primary target each week is worth his weight in dollars -- millions of them. According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson covered an offense's No. 1 receiver 55 percent of the time. He may have allowed more completions and touchdowns than Arizona would've liked, but when Peterson's responsible for the top pass-catcher on the field at all times, his job is harder than it is for the average defensive back.

Peterson's versatility helped establish his name. He was one of the league's top punt returners before he was battling Richard Sherman on Twitter for cornerback supremacy. His four touchdown returns as a rookie tied an NFL record. Last season, he added offense to his repertoire.

Then there's the fact he's an athletic freak. He's big enough to jam and press at the line of scrimmage, but he's fast enough to turn and run. And he can jump, too. On the field, there was no doubt Peterson was worth the money Cardinals president Michael Bidwill spent to keep him home.

Imagine Peterson on the open market. Arizona wouldn't have been able to compete if teams in the league's premier markets started bidding for his talents.

But there's more to Peterson becoming the cornerstone of an organization than his performance on the field. For the past 11 years, the Cardinals have watched Larry Fitzgerald become the face of the franchise. He was a young star like Peterson, but by the time Fitzgerald turned 24 -- which is how old Peterson is today -- his resume wasn't comparable. Fitzgerald had made one Pro Bowl but wasn't an All-Pro by his 24th birthday. And he evolved into the respected figure he is today in his mid-20s.

Peterson, who turned 24 on July 11, has the football resume and personality to take the reins from Fitzgerald as the face of the Cardinals. And clearly the team's front office sees that. Peterson has become a voice in the locker room, a leader whose maturity speaks for itself. On Tuesday, he spoke about the John Abraham situation with the poise of a seasoned veteran. For a man who was married at age 22, it's fitting that he's been described as old soul.

For a family-run franchise such as the Cardinals, paying Peterson was an investment in their future. But even Arizona realized it is time to protect its money. As negotiations between the Cardinals and Peterson's team heated up behind the scenes this week, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians announced Peterson's days as an offensive weapon were over and his punt returns would be limited. There was too much risk involved for $70 million.

But the largest cornerback contract ever doesn't mean he's the best cornerback ever. There's still work to be done. He gets beat more than he should. He relies on his athleticism and speed over fundamentals more than he should. He could study more and get his hands on more balls, Arians has said.

Peterson doesn't seem to be the type of man who'll take his foot off the pedal because he got paid. He'll tell you himself that he's a football junkie.

Even though he spent most of the summer unsure when a deal would get done, Peterson knew one thing: He was worth more than Richard Sherman, who for a short time had the richest cornerback contract in history.

Now, the Cardinals know it, too.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
9:05
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:

• He’s been one of the talks of camp, but Michael Floyd put his offseason improvement on display Tuesday. On one pass, Floyd got a step behind cornerback Patrick Peterson for a touchdown that sailed in just beyond Peterson’s reach. Floyd then hauled in another score over cornerback Justin Bethel. Earlier Tuesday, quarterback Carson Palmer praised Floyd’s size and his ability to overpower cornerbacks, which was the case Tuesday. Bethel is listed as 6-0 and Peterson 6-1, but Floyd played taller and bigger than the 6-2, 220 pounds he’s listed as.

• Arizona got a look at a few backups that were called upon in a pinch. With RB Andre Ellington (neck) and CB Antonio Cromartie (pectoral) out Tuesday, RB Stepfan Taylor and CB Jerraud Powers were inserted into their respective first-team spots. NT Christian Tupou (groin), who was already replacing Dan Williams, was replaced by a combination of players, including Anthony McCloud.

≺ Taylor filling in for Ellington was telling in terms of the battle for the second running back job. It’s between Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer, but with head coach Bruce Arians’ decision to run Taylor with the starters, it appears that he’s leading the backup running back race. The importance of winning the second spot this year is greater than past years because of Arians’ decision to use more two-back sets.

• Arians got what he wanted when it came to adding speed to the offense. On at least two occasions, Ted Ginn and John Brown had to slow down to haul in a Carson Palmer pass. That speed could be a blessing and a curse. Last season, Palmer had a knack for slightly underthrowing receivers, forcing them to come back for passes. Ginn and Brown will have to learn how to time their runs perfectly with Palmer’s passes.

• Rookie safety Deone Bucannon secured an interception that got the crowd riled up.

• Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who Arians praised Tuesday morning for being perfect through camp, missed three kicks in row during the afternoon practice. The three he missed were end-over-end kicks, different from his regular kicks. By my count, Catanzaro went 7-for-10, missing field goals from 41, 47 and 48 yards.

• After Catanzaro came off the field, special teams coordinator Amos Jones pulled his young kicker off to the side for a short talk near a water cooler. By Catanzaro’s body language, it was clear he wasn’t happy with himself.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider