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NFL training camp: NFC West team-by-team preview

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman gestures during the

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman gestures during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Carolina Panthers in Seattle, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015. Credit: AP / Elaine Thompson


OPEN CAMP: July 30, Renton, Washington.

LAST YEAR: NFL was 1-yard away from having its first back-to-back Super Bowl champions in a decade until Russell Wilson's pass in closing seconds was intercepted by New England's Malcolm Butler. It was crushing conclusion to season in which Seattle overcame midseason turmoil, including stunning trade of wide receiver Percy Harvin, to win its final six regular-season games and second straight NFC title.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Jimmy Graham; DT Ahtyba Rubin; CB Cary Williams and Will Blackmon; DE Frank Clark; WR Tyler Lockett.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Byron Maxwell; C Max Unger; G James Carpenter; LB Malcolm Smith; defensive coordinator Dan Quinn; linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr.

CAMP NEEDS: Keeping peace with everyone. DE Michael Bennett is unhappy with contract even though he signed extension with Seattle before 2014 season. LB Bruce Irvin is peeved Seattle chose not to pick up fifth-year option on rookie contract and has expressed disappointment in various ways during offseason. And then there is lingering cloud of contract extensions for QB Russell Wilson and LB Bobby Wagner and whether those will carry into regular season.

EXPECTATIONS: Seattle will enter season as NFC West favorites again, but might not be team to beat in NFC. While offseason focus has been on Wilson's contract situation, bigger question to Seattle's success will be transition from Quinn to Kris Richard as defensive coordinator, and if Seahawks can remain top defensive unit in league for third straight year. As long as Seattle remains defensive force, contending for another Super Bowl berth will be possible.


OPEN CAMP: JULY 31, Glendale, Arizona.

LAST YEAR: Cardinals raced to 9-1 record before multitude of injuries, particularly at quarterback. They were 6-0 with Carson Palmer as starter before he went down with torn ACL. They still were successful behind backup Drew Stanton, but he, too, injured knee. By end of season, Arizona was down to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. Cardinals still made playoffs, but mustered virtually no offense in wild-card loss at Carolina. Defense, so strong most of season, faded down stretch, particularly against run. Still, team's success despite injury woes made Bruce Arians NFL Coach of Year for second time in three seasons. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, voted NFL's top assistant coach, was rewarded with head coaching job of Jets.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RG Mike Iupati; LBs Sean Weatherspoon, Darryl Sharpton, LaMarr Woodley and Markus Golden; DT Cory Redding; C A.Q. Shipley; CB Damond Smith; RT D.J. Humphries; RB David Johnson.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Antonio Cromartie; C Lyle Sendlein; NT Dan Williams; DT Darnell Dockett; LBs Larry Foote and Sam Acho; TEs John Carlson and Rob Housler; WR-KR Ted Ginn Jr.; RG Paul Fanaika.

CAMP NEEDS: By all accounts, Palmer's return has gone well and he expects to fully participate in camp, although Cardinals may take cautious route. There will be competition at center (Shipley and Ted Larsen). Bobby Massie remains the right tackle while first-round pick D.J. Humphries tries to work into the mix. New defensive coordinator James Bettcher must show he can maintain essentially same blitz-dominated 3-4 scheme. Third-year ILB Kevin Minter, bothered by injuries in past, must show he is worth 2013 second-round pick. RG Jonathan Cooper, 2013 first-rounder, is healthy again; he missed entire rookie campaign with broken leg. Pro Bowl special-teamer Justin Bethel and Jerraud Powers will vie for cornerback job opposite Patrick Peterson, who was slowed by diabetes in 2014. S Tyrann Mathieu also seeks return to dominating rookie form after knee and hand injuries.

EXPECTATIONS: Team brimmed with confidence in offseason workouts; Cardinals believe they can contend with Seattle in NFC West if Palmer can stay healthy. Arizona is 13-2 in Palmer's last 15 starts. Addition of run-blocking standout Iupati and anticipated effectiveness of Cooper would help running game. RB Andre Ellington, slowed by foot injury last season, should get help from rookie Johnson. Secondary looks strong, especially if Peterson is 100 percent. Look for big season from WR John Brown. Arizona has won 21 games in Arians' two seasons as head coach and, if brutal midseason schedule isn't disruptive, Cardinals fully expect to be in thick of race come December.


OPEN CAMP: July 31, St. Louis.

LAST YEAR: Second straight season-ending knee injury to quarterback Sam Bradford in August greatly complicated matters from start, and offensive line was also hit hard by health problems. Defense made great strides in final two-thirds of season with one of top pass rushes led by end Robert Quinn and NFL Defensive Rookie of Year Aaron Donald.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Nick Foles; DT Nick Fairley; LB Akeem Ayers; RB Todd Gurley; QB Case Keenum.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: QBs Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill; OTs Joe Barksdale and Jake Long; C Scott Wells; G Davin Joseph; DT Kendall Langford; RB Zac Stacy.

CAMP NEEDS: Foles has already had time to get acquainted with new offense after deal for Bradford. Now, he must establish chemistry with receivers Kenny Britt, Jared Cook and Tavon Austin. Gurley is rehabbing from left knee surgery that cut short his final season at Georgia and is unlikely to be ready for opener. Running back should be in good hands until Gurley is ready, with 2014 starter Tre Mason plus versatile Benny Cunningham.

EXPECTATIONS: Youth movement no longer an excuse for franchise, which still has ground to gain in rugged NFC West. Rams haven't fielded winning team since 2003 and haven't been to playoffs since '04. Defense will be key for team that's won seven, seven and six games under coach Jeff Fisher. They'll be tested right away, opening at home against NFC champion Seahawks.


OPEN CAMP: Aug. 1, Santa Clara, California.

LAST YEAR: 49ers went 8-8 and missed playoffs for first time in four years following three straight trips to NFC championship game and Super Bowl runner-up after 2012 season. San Francisco parted ways with fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh, now coaching his alma mater at Michigan.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Head coach Jim Tomsula; WRs Torrey Smith and Jerome Simpson; RB Reggie Bush; DL Darnell Dockett; OL Erik Pears; CB Shareece Wright; former Australian rugby league star RB/special teams Jarryd Hayne.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: Harbaugh; LBs Patrick Willis and Chris Borland; RT Anthony Davis; DE Justin Smith; RB Frank Gore; LG Mike Iupati; WR Michael Crabtree; CBs Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox; P Andy Lee.

CAMP NEEDS: QB Colin Kaepernick spent much of offseason in Arizona working on his craft under guidance of Kurt Warner. Now, he will try to take on greater leadership role necessitated by departures of veterans Willis, Gore and Justin Smith. New-look offensive line must come together quickly and looks to find some consistency during preseason with perhaps LT Joe Staley only one playing in regular spot as Alex Boone likely moves from RG to LG in place Iupati. Veteran placekicker Phil Dawson is helping groom rookie punter Bradley Pinion. New coach Tomsula has had time with players during organized team activities and minicamps but still must get plenty done during camp to determine best combinations.

EXPECTATIONS: Lots of questions here. Three-time All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman hopes to return to top form in hurry after missing 2014 while recovering from left knee surgery after injury in NFC championship game at Seattle. He wants to lead defense after playing alongside close friend Willis; group still includes pass-rusher Aldon Smith and veteran secondary.


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