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The race West — NFC that is

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2010 – 4:25 pm

This isn’t going to be the last time this topic comes up, certainly. But with training camp closing in, pondering the NFC West is never a bad talking point. Mike Sando over at ESPN.com (who will be in Flagstaff Aug. 1) pointed out during his various roles today that when people want to talk about the West, there probably should be consideration for the Seahawks in the mix with the Niners and Cardinals (No one is saying the Rams have any shot whatsoever, and in 2010, I think that’s fair for such a rebuilding franchise).

Here’s why it’s impossible to ignore the Seahawks — because they have a proven NFL quarterback. Can Matt Hasselbeck stay healthy all season? I’d bet no (and in the end, I don’t see the Seahawks, under a new staff and retooling, being able to keep up). Yet too many things can happen over an NFL season. If the 49ers and Cards are the ones shredded by injuries, the Seahawks can step right in. Who really knows? The Patriots started 0-2 in 2001 and lost their starting quarterback in the process, and all that happened was they ended up winning the Super Bowl and starting a dynasty.

If anyone really knew what was going to happen, they’d quit prognosticating and make a fortune in Vegas (not that I, an NFL employee, would advocate such things).

In the meantime, the Cards are going to have to figure out their own issues in camp. I don’t know if they will chase a veteran linebacker now that Keith Bulluck is gone, but they may — at this late date — prefer to check out their own guys for a week before moving in that direction. As for signings, the only player I think could miss any time in camp could be Dan Williams, and that’s not based on anything but my gut (and the recent past with No. 1 picks). He won’t miss significant time. Frankly, and maybe it’s because I’ve been covering this so long, but unless a guy misses the majority of camp, any rookie holdout rarely makes much of a difference (although it does provide a storyline to write about).

Speaking of which, I’d better start putting together my story budget for camp. I’ll post again tomorrow. As we go to camp though, if you have any interest in following early and often, sign up to Twitter and follow me at Cardschatter.


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Gant talks about suspension

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2010 – 4:57 pm

Wide receiver Ed Gant was hoping to make a run at the Cards’ fourth receiver job in training camp, and he still could make inroads. But Onrea Jones outperformed everyone in OTAs to give himself an edge, and then Gant was hit with an NFL-imposed four-game suspension last month that — even if he makes the team — will keep him out the first four regular-season games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Gant has continued to work out at the team’s Tempe facility (he can do everything with the team until the Monday before the regular season starts) and when asked about if he has dealt with the suspension mentally, he acknowledged, “Not really.”

“I’ll leave it to God’s hands,” Gant said. “All I can do is keep working, keep studying.”

As for flunking the test, Gant said he had been taking workout supplements. “I was (also) taking some pain pills and supposedly, that’s what triggered it,” Gant said. “Who knows? The NFL has spoken. … It was shocking when coach (Ken) Whisenhunt called me. But other than that, I can’t let it get to me. Stuff happens. I have to keep working.”

Tight end Ben Patrick went through the same thing last year, and Gant said Patrick has given him some encouraging words. Then again, Patrick was a front-runner to start and was in good shape to be around after his suspension ended. Gant was already facing an uphill climb to the roster and this makes it harder. He wouldn’t count against the roster while suspended, which will help his cause, but nothing is certain. Gant also talked to his brother, Redskins cornerback Philip Buchanon, who also tried to give Gant a pep talk.

“I just have to keep fighting,” Gant said. “It is what it is. I’m trying not to let it get to me.”


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Just carry the pads

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2010 – 11:00 am

When most teams aren’t in camp yet, these are the stories that catch fire — Cowboys No. 1 draft pick Dez Bryant, refusing to carry the pads of fellow receiver Roy Williams after practice despite it being a time-honored tradition on every team. It happens on the Cardinals all the time. I saw many rookies doing it this offseason after OTAs, and that included No. 1 pick Dan Williams. It’s harmless, and refusing to do so creates more harm than good.

Larry Fitzgerald said the story should have stayed in-house and not gotten into the media. Maybe he is right. But that doesn’t change the fundamentals of the situation.

“You can say it’s hazing or messing with the young guys, but really what it is in my opinion is, it’s an invitation to be a part of the team, to be part of the family,” running back Jason Wright said. “This is how you get into the family.”

“And,” Wright added with a laugh, “if you throw a hissy fit over it, we’re going to have trouble being family.”

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was willing to look into the dynamic. Dockett wondered if it was personal between Bryant and Williams, and if so, he was willing to understand. Dockett said he carried pads for whoever asked when he was a rookie save for one player — former defensive tackle Russell Davis, with whom Dockett apparently didn’t see eye-to-eye. “But if (Bryant) treats all the receivers like that,” Dockett said, “then, I’d make it miserable for him.”

The Cards’ rookies don’t exactly deal with a gauntlet. There are no crazy tapings to a goal post. They carry pads. They have to buy breakfast a few times. And there is the singing of the college fight song in training camp and the end-of-camp rookie show (which many times carries parodies of veterans and coaches anyway, so there are zings all around).

“You’ve got to earn your keep,” second-year linebacker Reggie Walker said. “It’s really not a big deal.”

Wright was cut early in camp by the 49ers when he was a rookie, so he escaped a lot of pad-carrying. By the time he hooked on with the Falcons, he didn’t have to carry pads, but he ended up buying a lot of breakfasts. “I had Warrick Dunn’s Waffle House order and T.J. Duckett’s Waffle House order in my phone, ready to go,” Wright said.

Dan Williams has certainly carried Dockett’s pads a few times already.

“No question,” Dockett said. “And he’s going to do a lot of other (stuff) too.”


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Bulluck goes to Giants

Posted by Darren Urban on July 24, 2010 – 6:56 pm

Apparently, veteran free-agent linebacker Keith Bulluck visited the Cards this past week (I knew that guy I saw talking to coach Ken Whisenhunt looked familiar) but in the end, decided to sign with the Giants instead of the Cards. Bulluck is from New York, so it probably wasn’t a fair fight, but according to ESPN.com’s story, Whisenhunt and Bulluck had a good conversation and the Cards wanted Bulluck to start for them in the middle — not a big surprise, given the uncertainty around the back-troubled Gerald Hayes. Bulluck tore up his knee late last season but has recovered. He was doing a chunk of his rehab here in Phoenix with Brett Fischer — who works with the Cardinals — so the Cards probably had pretty good intel on Bulluck’s recovery.

“I’m a New York dude — no way I can play anyplace else,” Bulluck told the website. “New York’s about toughness … the NFC East. That’s where I belong.”

We’ll see if the Cards keep looking around for linebackers or if Bulluck, who has been very good over his long career, was a special case.


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Graves talks contracts

Posted by Darren Urban on July 23, 2010 – 3:05 pm

Had a chance to catch up with general manager Rod Graves today to get a state of the state today regarding the three unsigned draft picks — first-rounder Dan Williams, second-rounder Daryl Washington and fourth-rounder O’Brien Schofield — and also where things might stand with defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and his potential contract extension.

Talks are underway with all three draft picks. Graves said he was still hopeful all three will be signed by training camp (the first practice is a week from tomorrow) but “we’ll see how the process goes.”

As far as Dez Bryant, the WR taken 24th overall and two spots ahead of Williams, being signed helping the Williams negotiations, Graves said it does give the area of the round “more clarity” but it’s wait-and-see to find out how or if it will impact things. “It does help to some degree,” Graves said. It may be worth noting the pick between Bryant and Williams is Denver QB Tim Tebow, and quarterbacks always throw off the scale as well.

As for Schofield, Graves is hoping that will be done by camp but he mentioned Schofield’s “unique situation” with his knee injury and “we’ve got to construct a deal that considers that.” “There’s no reason to think we can’t have that deal consummated but there’s not a sense of urgency,” Graves added. “With all three unsigned guys, they have been around and worked hard this summer and been impressive. Schofield has worked extremely hard. Our ultimate goal is to have those guys in on time.”

Right now, only one of 32 first-rounders have signed, and only three of 32 second-rounders. All but four fourth-rounders have signed.

Dockett meanwhile has been talking a lot in media outlets and on Twitter, sounding a least a little more optimistic about his deal. On Sports 620 KTAR he even dropped a line about maybe one being done “sooner instead of later.” Graves said there has been good communication between the sides but acknowledged nothing is done right now. “Dockett has really shown his love for this team and I think in many respects, he has matured quite a bit over the years,” Graves said. “He’s an outstanding football player and at some point, we are going to address his deal. … We’re trying to keep it as positive as we can until we get something done. Our main objective is to keep our main core together and Darnell is one of our core players.”

(Side note from me: I have said it before and I’ll repeat it — I still think the Cards extend Dockett. When I don’t know. If I had to guess — and that’s all it would be is a guess — it would be sometime mid-to-late this season.)


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About the Adrian story

Posted by Darren Urban on July 23, 2010 – 10:30 am

I have known Adrian Wilson since he was drafted by the Cardinals. By time, that is long. But it only had so much depth. He, by his own admission, doesn’t let many people in to his life.

That doesn’t mean A-Dub doesn’t have a great personality or isn’t friendly. His laugh is deep (and while I had never thought about it, teammate Kenny Iwebema a few weeks ago said Wilson has “the Predator laugh” and I thought back to the movie. Funny. But true too). Wilson is the guy who, after he finally made the Pro Bowl in 2006, flew media relations manager Chris Melvin out to Hawaii with him as thanks for his help in getting his name out there.

He was the guy who, when word first got out that I was leaving my newspaper job covering the team to come inside the walls of the organization to do the same, congratulated me (finding me in Melvin’s office with my back to the door, the congrats came with a vice-grip squeeze of my shoulders). He’s the guy who could make you jump through a couple of hoops before convincing him to do something, not because he was a jerk but instead because he enjoys busting chops once it a while. Even the times when he just declined to talk to me as a reporter, there never seemed to be malice in it.

He’s the guy who wept when the Cardinals won the NFC Championship and made it to the Super Bowl.

I knew bits and pieces of Adrian. Then he asked me if I wanted to come back to North Carolina this summer to cover him and his high school jersey retirement. I said yes, and told him I wanted to do two stories (and what will also be two different video pieces). One would be about the night itself. The other would be a “Who is Adrian?” story.

That only works if he let everyone in, because once I knew, I’d write about it and we’d do a broadcast piece on it and everyone would know. Adrian was willing to do that. He was fantastic driving me and the broadcast department’s John Hayward around High Point, revealing parts of his life I never knew about in all the years I had talked to him.

(A quick aside: One of his best friends, Adrian Mack, was gold helping fill in the blanks when A-Dub didn’t have the time. Mack was a football teammate of Wilson’s in high school. “I was the captain of the defense at linebacker and he was safety,” Mack said. “So it was like I called the shots and he had my back.” And even now, that hasn’t changed, although Mack has Wilson’s back plenty.)

Why now? Good question. Not that Wilson will ever shed the chip on the shoulder that has served him so well. He wore the No. 2 in practice all those years because he was “second-best,” even though I couldn’t nail down who was calling him that. Also know if there is an article or talking head downplaying him or leaving him out of the best safeties conversation, Wilson notices.

But I think when it comes to his legacy – which I think is more important to him than money or the fame – Wilson is more comfortable where he is now. So he was willing to let us all in about then, which is how I framed my lengthy Adrian story just posted.

In the time of blogging and quick stories for the internet, I don’t get to write many long, spend-a-lot-of-time-on-it stories anymore. I think this turned out pretty well. In the end, it wouldn’t have been possible if Adrian hadn’t opened up and let us in.


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The first first, LBs and running (under)water

Posted by Darren Urban on July 22, 2010 – 3:51 pm

– One down — ESPN’s Adam Schefter (and others) is reporting the Cowboys and WR Dez Bryant have agreed to a contract, making Bryant the first first-rounder to come under contract. That leaves 31 other first-rounders and most of the second-rounders still as camp approaches. I am not sure exactly where the Cards are with Dan Williams and Daryl Washington, but I don’t think anything is imminent. I hope to catch up with GM Rod Graves at some point.

– Given the circumstances, with Gerald Hayes ailing, you’ve got to wonder if it would get Washington on the field faster (with Paris Lenon filling in for Hayes). As long as Hayes sits, there will likely be some mixing and matching early on.

– The linebacker who won’t be able to play right away, O.B. Schofield, is trying hard to shorten his time frame to return. He is in great spirits in rehab, proudly noting he is back from the 221 pounds he had dropped to after his knee injury to 238 pounds (which is easy to see in the below photo, where you can see how his underwater running is monitored by trainers. Yes, he is wearing shorts).


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Wilson decides to Rage

Posted by Darren Urban on July 22, 2010 – 10:12 am

I know there have been a bunch of people wondering about The Big Red Rage after Bertrand Berry’s retirement. It’s official now; Adrian Wilson has agreed to take over the co-hosting spot with Ron Wolfley and Paul Calvisi. That should be a good thing (although my Wilson story being posted tomorrow is purely coincidental; it’s not like this is a big PR push).

Speaking of Wolf, how about this shot from the wayback machine, featuring (from left to right) Neil Lomax, Wolf, Vai Sikahema and Luis Sharpe once upon a time (Yes, I’ve been waiting for some reason to post this. This seems as good a time as any):



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Back to Hayes and Deuce debate

Posted by Darren Urban on July 21, 2010 – 4:09 pm

It turns out linebacker Gerald Hayes, who has been battling back trouble since last year, will be on the sidelines to begin training camp, Kent Somers reports, after he had a surgical procedure a few weeks ago. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Hayes will be reevaluated as the Cards go up to camp but it’s going to take some juggling. The Cards were already trying to figure out one inside linebacker spot with Paris Lenon and rookie Daryl Washington and now they will have to figure out a contingency plan (which I am sure has been in the works) in case Hayes’ return drags out. It’s a difficult situation with Hayes because backs are always troublesome injuries.

The situation with Deuce Lutui is a little more cut and dried (Somers was on fire today). Whisenhunt acknowledged Lutui was indeed 396 pounds when he signed his new deal and Whisenhunt repeated to Kent what he said last week, that he was hoping for Lutui to have been in shape and probably could have benefited from the Cards’ offseason conditioning program. Lutui’s agent Ken Harris strongly disagreed. “If the club isn’t pleased with him, I’m happy to assist them on a possible trade,” Harris told Somers. “Otherwise, we should let his play on the field this season speak for itself like it did last year.”

I don’t see a trade happening. The Cards, before Lutui signed, still saw him as a long-term piece to the puzzle. There has to be disappointment in the weight gain, but there probably isn’t surprise. Those first few days of camp will be real interesting.

Finally, in case you didn’t see it, info is out on the new Protect The Nest plans when it comes to single-game tickets. The marquee games this year? No surprise: Monday night against the Niners and Christmas night against the Cowboys.


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About future opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 20, 2010 – 5:04 pm

There’s been a handful of blog items about 2011 opponents, because the NFL just handed out its 2011 Record and Fact Book and the opponents for next year have already been figured. There has also been confusion, because it doesn’t seem to match up right with home and away opponents (just like this coming season, when everyone wanted to know, for instance, why the Cards are going to San Diego this season when the last time the teams met in the regular season that was also in San Diego).

Next year the Cardinals will host Dallas, the Giants, Cleveland and Pittsburgh while visiting Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Cincinnati (in addition to hosting an NFC South team and visiting an NFC North team they ultimately match up with in the 2010 standings). Those paying attention will realize that the last time the Cowboys, Giants, Browns and Steelers played the Cards in the regular season as part of the full divisional rotation, the Cards hosted each time in 2008 with Dallas and New York and in 2007 with Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

(Yes I know the Cards went to New York last year, but that was in a “match-up-with-the-previous-year” game rather than in a year where the Cards played the entire NFC East).

Similarly, the last time the Cards played the Eagles, Redskins, Ravens and Bengals, they were all road games — just like 2011.

The reason is because the NFL is starting over with its rotation as a block of eight seasons, just like it did from 2002 to 2009, to make sure every team plays every other team home and away at least once. It’s not connected with the recent block of schedules, which is why, for instance, the Cards go to Philly twice in a row. In the end, it will equal out.

Unless there are games missed in 2011 because of a work stoppage. Then it’ll get a little messed up I am guessing.


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