On Lutui and Hayes

Posted by Darren Urban on May 31, 2010 – 2:13 pm

This is the problem with long weekends. Stuff comes up, and in the end, it’s tough to not want to comment before going back to the office.

So …

— The NFL says that, as of the end of last week, 37 restricted free agents remained unsigned to new contracts. One of those is, obviously, Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui. That’s still a lot of RFAs unsigned. We’ve broken down the Deuce thing before. At this point, I will be surprised if he signs before he has to, which is June 15. From the site

“If the original qualifying offer is greater than 110 percent of the player’s 2009 base salary and the player does not sign that contract by June 15, the team can substitute the June 1 tender with a new June 15th tender of 110 percent of the RFA’s 2009 base salary and continue to retain exclusive rights to the player.  If the player does not sign by Week 10, he cannot play in 2010.”

Lutui’s tender offer, which will be extended tomorrow I am sure, is greater than 110 percent. Meaning the Cards can substitute the offer for a lower one on June 15 if Deuce doesn’t sign. Again, he will. Well, I think he will. It would simply be stunning if he didn’t. I’m not positive the Cards would necessarily lower their tender offer, but I don’t understand why Deuce would take that chance.

— Buried deep in this notes column is a note that Cards officials are “concerned” about the bad back of LB Gerald Hayes. There are no quotes per se. All I know is that, when coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked about it recently — and that’s how it was framed, if Hayes’ back was a major concern — Whiz said “at this point, it’s not.” And I have talked to someone else about Hayes’ back and I was given the same vibe — that they expect Hayes to be OK. Things can change, of course, and any back problems for a player who has been around eight years does make you think. And given his long tenure, it’s probably about the time to be thinking about life after Hayes too, and grooming a possible replacement.

But Hayes hasn’t missed more than two games in a season since he blew out his knee in the preseason of 2005. If Hayes were to miss a bunch of training camp time, then I think you worry. But OTA time? It’s tough to get worked up in May/June. Caution is always the watchword. When in doubt, let a guy sit. No reason to push it.

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A-Dub made a pick too

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2010 – 4:23 pm

It is possible, in my rush to get you, loyal readers, a quick post-practice update earlier that I could have missed a detail or two. I might have forgotten to mention the play by CB Greg Toler to get his hands on a Derek Anderson pass intended for TE Anthony Becht, a ball that popped into the air before S Adrian Wilson grabbed it for the interception before tumbling to the ground. Yep, I might have been better served to point out that defensive play I suppose — I think No. 9 would agree.

The defense has made its share of plays out there. I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea (and methinks neither does A-Dub).

One other random thought from this week that I keep meaning to mention: When the practices are over, rookie nose tackle Dan Williams, whenever he is ready to head to the locker room, makes an effort to jog from the fields to the locker room doors. He’s not sprinting by any means, and, because the players have usually finished with a run, he is usually pretty gassed. But he doesn’t walk, and to me, it just strikes me as a little extra effort you like to see out of a rookie.

That’s about all for now. The building is just about deserted, it seems. The offices are closed tomorrow, the players are long gone and with Memorial Day Monday, work is the furthest thing from anyone’s minds. I plan on reacting the same (although I will probably post some new photos later today or tomorrow; what can I say, I love my job).

The No. 9 Adrian is wearing, by the way, is going to be retired by his high school in a couple of weeks and I will have the honor of chronicling that.

First I’ll chronicle the good defensive plays during OTAs, though. Assuming I don’t forget.

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Leinart, Cards grinding away

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2010 – 12:35 pm

The Cards finished up a second week of OTAs today with a lot of passing. The last chunk — in both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work — was 99 percent throws. I know so many are curious to know how Matt Leinart is throwing, along with Derek Anderson. Each had some good plays today, and a couple not as good. Leinart on one deep ball in 7-on-7 had Steve Breaston open, but threw over the wrong shoulder, leading Leinart to toss his helmet in disgust. But he made a nice sideline throw to Larry Fitzgerald, and during his three plays of the “competitive” 11-on-11 third-down sequence, he got Fitz on a first-down slant pass and then found Early Doucet — who was wide open — deep down the middle for a perfect score.

“That’s the fun part,” Leinart said on the final 11-on-11 period. “It’s non-scripted. It’s full speed. That’s as fast as it gets, except when you have pads it’s actually a little easier (for the offense) because you can block them. But that’s as fast as it gets and on third downs, they give you every look you can imagine, so you have to read and react. It’s just a great competitive period, and that’s how you get better.”

The defense, if you recall, won last week’s third-down period.

Leinart said he continues to feel good, and sounds upbeat. “Even last year at this time I felt good but it is different being in this position, the mindset,” Leinart said. “I am confident, I know where I am going with the ball and I am seeing the defense. Going against the first-(string) defense … you lack the experience going against the starters. You are going to throw some bad balls, you will make some mistakes. But it’s only going to continue to help me. I am so excited to play.”

Other tidbits of note as the players bail until Tuesday (and actually, so will I):

— WR Ed Gant made a few nice catches today, which was important. The Cards want more consistency out of him, and I’m not sure they had seen enough up until this point. But he handled a two Anderson bullets and a Max Hall throw that caught the attention.

— LB Joey Porter made a nice strip of TE Ben Patrick in the final stanza to prevent a first-down catch.

— RB Tim Hightower continues to run first-team. Will I be surprised if Hightower remains, technically, the “starter” even though I expect Beanie Wells to get more carries? No. I think Hightower, as a person and a player, is exactly what coach Ken Whisenhunt wants on his team and I think Hightower starting can send a message.

— There were definitely some veterans who were ready to get the heck out and start the weekend once practice ended today. I can’t blame them.

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Have Cards Broughton in a fullback?

Posted by Darren Urban on May 26, 2010 – 4:41 pm

In the Kurt Warner years, a fullback wasn’t featured much of the time on offense, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t used. (I have to say, I had a soft spot in my heart for old I-45 a couple years ago — Terrelle Smith). Smith was gone in 2009, opening the spot for another veteran Dan Kreider. Krieder too is gone and the Cards are searching for his replacement.

They may have added him while Kreider was still on the roster. The team signed Nehemiah Broughton in January off the practice squad of the New York Giants, right after the regular season ended but while the Cards were still practicing (and would be for another two weeks). That was good enough to convince the Cards to keep him around.

“It’s a position that is hard to find guys,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Nehemiah has good size (at 6-foot, 255 pounds) and is very athletic. He came in and worked hard for us. I am excited to see how he develops because obviously, it’s a position where we need someone to do it. You are looking for someone to step up and he’s got a little bit of a leg up because of the work he did with us last season.”

Right now, fullback is one of the positions difficult to evaluate. That spot hits, and no one is hitting in shorts. Whisenhunt said the goal-line drills in Flagstaff are one of the proving grounds for those players. “I would like to see what happens in games, what happens in training camp when the pads go on,” Whisenhunt said

Broughton took almost all the reps in minicamp because Reagan Maui’a was hurt. Afterward, the Cards also brought in Charles Ali, who had been with the Browns most recently. The Cardinals figure to need a quality fullback, given the retirement of Kurt Warner and the assumed increase in the running game.

“I just want to play football and make this ballclub,” Broughton said. “Coaches make those decisions. … But I am very confident in my abilities.”

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Camaraderie through punt catching

Posted by Darren Urban on May 26, 2010 – 2:41 pm

Usually part of OTAs includes some extras at the end of random sessions — something to spice things up. Last week the offense and defense battled with sprints on the line during a third-down drill. Today, it was coach Ken Whisenhunt’s famous punt-catching fun. In the past, it’s been almost all about the linemen, trying to negotiate big bodies underneath the JUGS-jettisoned ball. But Whisenhunt switched things a bit this year, giving guys like Jason Wright, Kerry Rhodes and Beanie Wells turns. Needless to say, most balls were caught (unfortunately for Jeremy Bridges — doh!). The highlight may have been linebacker Clark Haggans, though, who has waited a year to live down his drop from last summer and was needled by Whisenhunt until he pulled down his attempt.

The whole experience certainly left most of the players smiling and in good spirits. Good news, right? “Well, it’s early,” Whisenhunt said. “There is no pressure from a game. We’re still in OTAs. Let’s get through the dog days of training camp when I am sure some of these guys are going to want to mix it up and fight and then we will talk about it. Right now, we’re undefeated and everybody is playing well. I like the chemistry of the team … and whenever you have the competition at the end of practice like we did today and you see them get excited, you like that. They want to win and that’s what is important.”

One play did stand out today that I noticed during 11-on-11. Matt Leinart threw a dart into a seam that safety Matt Ware was sitting on, arms open, waiting for an interception. Then suddenly Steve Breaston burst back on the ball, making the catch in front of a stunned Ware and sprinting upfield. It just underscores the timing needed with some of these passes.

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OTAs resume with Two-Face

Posted by Darren Urban on May 25, 2010 – 1:23 pm

So the second week of OTAs opened today with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the sidelines. And that’s not even what grabbed your attention with DRC. No, it was his hairstyle, which once again seemed DRC-unique. He had shaved off half his hair. His beard remained, but half his skull was clean (as you can see below). “They call me Two-Face around here,” DRC said later. “They say they never know what you’re gonna get. So I wanted to give them a look.”

Batman did not attend the voluntary workout.

Some other things that happened:

— I thought tight end Dominique Byrd made a few nice plays today. Obviously he isn’t quite the blocker that the Cards might want at the position, but he definitely can catch the ball and he’s nifty after the catch. He snared a Derek Anderson bullet on one play that was particularly noticeable.

— Safety Kerry Rhodes made an interception on 7-on-7 (I didn’t see who threw it) but DRC, watching on the sideline, good-naturedly warned Rhodes not to celebrate too much. “They don’t count right now,” DRC bellowed.

— Anderson threw a nice bomb to Early Doucet, and Max Hall found Stephen Williams on a deep out pattern among the other passes I noticed.

— Speaking of Doucet, during wide receiver drills, he’d usually go first and then peel off to make a couple throws to his teammates during the same drill, giving special-teams coach Kevin Spencer — the normal “QB” for such drills — a break. “Q’s gone,” Doucet said with a smile, noting the absence of former receiver-who-once-was-a-college-QB Anquan Boldin. “I’m just letting them see my potential if they want to draw something up.” UPDATE: For some sights and sounds from receivers and a glimpse of a Doucet throw, check out today’s video here.

— A handful of players besides DRC were sidelined with various dings, including linebacker Gerald Hayes (back), who was absent last week.

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Receiver still a strong suit

Posted by Darren Urban on May 25, 2010 – 9:21 am

When a team deals a player away like Anquan Boldin, the first thought is what happens going forward. Clearly, the Cards (who also lost Jerheme Urban to free agency) aren’t quite as deep at the position as before. But it’s hard to look at the Cards’ receiving corps at the top and not still have serious confidence.

Matt Williamson of Scouts, Inc., wrote a piece (it’s under the Insider paywall, FYI) breaking down the receiving groups of a handful of teams, including the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald is a great starting point of course, and he’s clearly bullish on Early Doucet — not only calling Doucet a possible breakout player but even going as far to say Steve Breaston is better suited for the No. 3 role and implying Doucet could be No. 2 (I don’t necessarily agree; I think Breaston’s toughness is underrated). In Williamson’s estimation, Doucet is an ideal Boldin replacement, which wouldn’t make him the first person to view Early that way.

Here is also what Williamson said about the rest of the pass-catching situation: “I also love the draft pick of Andre Roberts in the third round. Although he is from the Citadel, his game is polished and he should quickly assert himself as one of the best No. 4 wideouts in this league. Surely Boldin’s loss will be felt and Arizona’s tight ends are glorified offensive tackles, but I don’t have any worries about the wide receiver position.”

I feel the same way at this point. Again, guys have to stay healthy (and it wouldn’t hurt to find another young guy to develop besides Roberts) but the Cards are in good shape out wide.

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Rhodes chat Wednesday

Posted by Darren Urban on May 24, 2010 – 9:45 am

After a couple of live chats with just me, we’re bringing in the big guns. New safety Kerry Rhodes will take part in a chat Wednesday (the link is right here) at 1 p.m. Arizona time (4 p.m. EST) so you out there can get to know Adrian Wilson’s new tag-team partner. Rhodes is a well-rounded fellow who seems to have fit well into the locker room already as he steps in for Antrel Rolle. Be sure to join us. Rhodes is scheduled to spend 30 minutes with us, and we’ll get to as many questions as we can.

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The QBs aren’t named Bulger

Posted by Darren Urban on May 21, 2010 – 3:05 pm

May means Twitter showers are big news in the NFL, and so are rumors of still-on-the-street veteran quarterbacks. It can be no surprise Marc Bulger was, once again, linked to the Cardinals despite the presence of Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson and rookies John Skelton and Max Hall.

I haven’t been able to get in touch with general manager Rod Graves, but he told’s Steve Wyche the team is “not actively engaged in discussion with Marc Bulger” and “right now, we’re not looking outside of our group.”

“If he is interested, we’re appreciative but right now, we’re focused on the guys that we have here,” Graves said. “Matt has done a great job so far but so has Derek Anderson and our young guys. I’ve learned to never say never. Who knows what may happen? (Coach) Ken (Whisenhunt) hasn’t made any final decisions on who will be the starter at quarterback. Right now, we’re not looking outside of our group. That’s not our focus.”

(UPDATE: Graves got back to me via e-mail, echoing the same thoughts. Included was this: “Questions regarding the depth chart or who will be the starter will be answered by Ken.”)

It certainly doesn’t put the Bulger possibility to bed. But just yesterday, Whisenhunt — asked generally about who stood out — without prompting talked about his current quarterbacks. “I thought the quarterbacks threw the ball very well this week,” Whisenhunt said. “That was nice to see.”

It’s not exactly an endorsement for the season, but it is praise — something that, if the Cards were that disappointed with the group, I wouldn’t think Whiz would say. I still think the starter this season is already on the roster, and I still think it’ll end up being Leinart. I do think, if Bulger were to sign, it would basically end any thoughts Leinart would have of being QB here. It would create an awfully awkward situation. And again, it’s May. NFL media is looking to find something to talk about when nothing much is going on (I know I am), and the quarterback situation here lends itself to speculation.

The rumors won’t stop, regardless. just posted an entry “Don’t rule out JaMarcus Russell in Arizona.” Yeah, well, I think I’m going to rule him out right now.

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Granting wishes

Posted by Darren Urban on May 21, 2010 – 10:32 am

At the end of Thursday’s final OTA, when the team gathered for its final huddle, Larry Fitzgerald let his teammates know about a special guest sitting off to the side. Spencer Shores is 6, living in Ahwatukee and dealing with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer affecting the bone and soft tissue.

Little Spencer has not had it easy. His cancer was in his right eye, and removed in July of 2008. After nine months of chemotherapy and three months of radiation treatment, the cancer was thought to be gone. In January of this year, a second tumor reemerged and grew an inch in less than six weeks in the same place. Spencer is now facing 8-to-12 more chemo treatments and splitting time between home and a treatment center in Houston. One of his wishes is to meet top sports stars, and with Fitz in his backyard, he wanted to meet him.

Fitz did him one better. He brought Shores out Thursday, and wave after wave of players on the 85-man roster came by to shake Spencer’s hand. Many gave him their gloves from practice (the sweaty pile had to number 14 or 16 by the time it was over). Spencer got reacquainted with quarterback Matt Leinart, who had previously met Spencer on one of Leinart’s hospital visits. And of course, Fitz came by.

It certainly lent some perspective in this world of football.

UPDATE: Based on Spencer’s page the latest news on his tumor is encouraging.

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