The Hyphen talks punt returns, Sproles

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2010 – 4:56 pm

First things first: LaRod Stephens-Howling isn’t going to return punts. Not right now. The Hyphen has talked to special teams coach Kevin Spencer about it, and he’s given it a try in practice. But it’s just not The Hyphen.

“I mean, returning punts is one of the hardest jobs there is,” Stephens-Howling said. “It is something I work on every offseason and I try to get more comfortable at it. That’s not to say I won’t do it in the future. I’ll keep working on it, and hopefully I will get comfortable enough to be able to do it.”

Told the fan base wouldn’t mind him having a shot, Stephens-Howling smiled. “It feels good they have that confidence,” he said. He just doesn’t have the confidence right now.

That’s one of the few things The Hyphen isn’t comfortable with, however. His 102-yard kickoff return Sunday was a huge play (broken down right here, and on video right here). He’s a long way since draft day 2009 when he broke down multiple times – including on a conference call with reporters – because he was so happy to be picked.

Coincidentally, Stephens-Howling draws comparisons to another small running back, Darren Sproles, who happens to play for the team the Cards will see Sunday – the Chargers. Sproles also has played a role in where Stephens-Howling is today.

Seems the offensive line coach at Pitt when LSH was in college – Paul Dunn – was at Kansas State when Sproles was there. Stephens-Howling followed Sproles closely when Sproles was in college and LSH in high school. When The Hyphen got to Pitt, Dunn put on video of Sproles to show what Dun thought Stephens-Howling could be. “That was the film that let me know I had a shot at the NFL,” Stephens-Howling said.

Stephens-Howling, all 5-foot-7 of him, has already changed the way coach Ken Whisenhunt looks at smaller players. “I have certainly learned a great lesson with LaRod,” Whiz said. “I think it’s easy to look at a player’s size and have preconceived ideas what his limitations are. … I can say now, my thinking on that has changed tremendously.”

The Hyphen and Sproles met for the first time following the Cards-Chargers preseason game in 2009. They briefly talked about Dunn and their spots in the league.

“We’re the underdogs,” The Hyphen said. “We don’t get much but when we get the opportunity we try and get all we can.”

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Fitz’s hair, the receivers and some racing

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2010 – 3:11 pm

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was going over his probable wing mates in San Diego — mentioning all the rookies — when it was pointed out that’s all he has to play with him.

“There’s OJ,” Fitzgerald said, referencing Onrea Jones. Then Fitz ran with it. “Early might play this week. Steve is probable. We’re going to go with that.”

Obviously, Early Doucet and Steve Breaston aren’t playing, as both come back from surgery. But Fitz was effusive in his praise of Stephen Williams and Max Komar, talking about Komar’s “moxie.”

Of course, Fitzgerald has to worry about himself too. “I just want to double my catch performance from Sunday and I’ll be a happy man,” Fitzgerald said of his two-catch day against the Raiders. “If I can just get four, I’ll be …”

“We are 2-1 and that’s what it is all about. If we were 0-3, I might pull my hair out but I’m good right now.”

Good thing. That’s a lot of hair to yank out.

— Linebacker Paris Lenon was added to the injury report when he was held out of practice with a sore pelvis.

— Running back Beanie Wells (knee) and guard Alan Faneca (back) both returned to practice fully.

— Rookie Andre Roberts continued to field extra punts after practice at the Tempe facility once the team returned from ASU’s bubble.

— The locker room loudly exploded with racing challenges among the younger defensive backs. Twice players ran outside ready to defend their trash talk. A.J. Jefferson (re-signed to the practice squad earlier this week) won one race over Michael Adams. A second took place but I couldn’t tell who was involved. DRC was not in either race. Proven wrong again: I have been told the second race was DRC, Jefferson and Stephen Williams — and that’s the order in which they finished. I’d guess DRC is going to win most of his races. He didn’t even look like he broke a sweat when he walked in the second time.

The world awaits the true matchup, a battle first suggested by the potential combatants back at around playoff time of the Super Bowl run — DRC and Breaston. Of course, Breaston isn’t doing any racing anytime soon.

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A-Dub, Rivers on buddy system

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2010 – 10:19 pm

If one of your long-time friends was your target when you blitzed, would you still drill the guy?

Adrian Wilson doesn’t hesitate. No way he’s easing up on Philip Rivers.

“Absolutely not,” Wilson said, a smile crossing his face. “He knows that. He ain’t gonna let up passing the ball down the field, so, you know … it’s how it is.”

Wilson, the Cards’ safety, and Rivers, the Chargers quarterback who may be seeing Wilson up close and personal Sunday, played at North Carolina State together. Wilson came out after his junior season in 2001; Rivers was done in college after the 2003 season. But when their time overlapped, Rivers and Wilson were dorm mates, living a few doors down from each other.

Wilson never had a car growing up – didn’t want a car, in fact – so when it was time for a food run, Rivers was the ride.

“He used to take me to Dairy Queen, Bojangles, the 25-cent wing store,” Wilson said. “We did a lot of stuff together.”

Said Rivers, “There were many trips to Dairy Queen and Bojangles and stuff. He was always coming knocking on my door for a ride.”

Not that Wilson was asking. “He pretty much just told me,” Rivers added. “I’d hear that knock on the door and he’d say, ‘Let’s go,’ and I’d be like, ‘Alright, coming.’”

Rivers admitted he was a little intimidated by Wilson at first – “You couldn’t really quite read him whether he’s serious or when he’s having a good time,” Rivers said – but said Wilson was a “good buddy.”

Wilson said the two trade text messages often. These days, that includes talking about their beloved Wolfpack, who have raced out to a 4-0 start. Wilson said that gives the pair plenty to talk about. There may be more to talk about after Sunday too.

“He’s all over the place as always,” Rivers said. “He flies around out there. He and (Darnell) Dockett jump off the screen when you’re watching tape.”

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Hyphen’s gift and few injuries

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2010 – 3:09 pm

Well, coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Cards were pretty healthy Monday and, technically, he’s right — the Cards have just four guys on the injury report. Sure, it’s an important four, and two are receivers that are out, but …

Aside from WRs Steve Breaston (knee) and Early Doucet (hernia) out with surgeries, RB Beanie Wells (knee) and G Alan Faneca (back) each were limited Wednesday, although I suspect both will be able to play Sunday just fine. Making up for the missing Breaston and Doucet might be more difficult. I will have a story on the homepage later.

There was good news after practice, though, with LaRod Stephens-Howling meeting the guy for whom the Hyphen won a house. Stephens-Howling ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, and Dave Johnson (pictured below with Hyphen and Johnson’s wife, Darci Mimz) got a free new home from Lennar Homes. Johnson clearly was grateful, saying of the Hyphen, “He’s got a place to stay forever.” Stephens-Howling, meanwhile, seems to have a little trouble at home. Asked if he had yet to get his own mother a house, LSH smiled. “Naw,” he said. “She’s kind of mad at me now.”

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Adding a QB hard to do

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2010 – 9:32 am

Back in 2007, Kurt Warner suffered a nasty elbow injury when Carolina’s Julius Peppers fell on it while the two scrambled for a fumble, and the Cardinals were in trouble.

See, the week before, Matt Leinart had broken his collarbone and was out for the season. The Cards were only carrying two quarterbacks at the time, so, Tim Rattay came in off the street to back up Warner. And then Warner went down. Rattay played the rest of that game against the Panthers — a loss, even though the Panthers also had to bring Vinny Testaverde off the street to play QB because of injuries — and the offense looked understandably disheveled.

Warner came back the next week, amazingly, playing with a bad left elbow. Warner had to deal with pain and a funky brace, but the alternative was using Rattay (pictured below) when he just didn’t know what he was doing.

There is a reason teams aren’t adding quarterbacks midseason and then using them. Heck, there is a reason teams bring back players they have already cut if someone is needed — think Onrea Jones — instead of looking elsewhere. If you need to plug someone in right away, you want someone who knows the system. That’s why a trade (however silly the idea) of someone like Kevin Kolb would not work in the short-term even if he was available. Or why a team is going to be hesitant to claim a Trent Edwards and put him on the field right away.

There’s a reason Leinart, when he signed with the Texans, had no immediate chance to be the backup even over journeyman Dan Orlovsky. Orlovsky had been with the Texans all offseason. He knew the offense. Leinart didn’t/doesn’t. At best, it’ll be deep into the season before Leinart moves up the depth chart. This isn’t baseball or basketball, where a new player can slide right in and make an impact.

And in the case of the Cards, coach Ken Whisenhunt made the choice to go with the three quarterbacks he has now. He’s going to stick with that plan at least through the season (barring injury), which is why Derek Anderson remains entrenched as a starter and why, if the team were to make a change, rookie Max Hall would get the call rather than the Cards putting a call into, say, the UFL to see if ancient Jeff Garcia is available.

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For now, no new receivers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 28, 2010 – 8:59 pm

With the surgery and subsequent short-term shelving of Steve Breaston, the Cardinals re-signed receiver Onrea Jones and will see how their current wideout group does Sunday in San Diego before considering any other veteran additions, general manager Rod Graves said in a text message Tuesday night. The team will re-evaluate the position again after playing the Chargers, Graves added. The Cardinals feel if they can get through the next two games with the current group — Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams, Max Komar and Jones — then both Breaston and Early Doucet can likely return after the bye (which comes in three weeks after a home game against New Orleans).

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Breaston has knee surgery

Posted by Darren Urban on September 28, 2010 – 1:41 pm

Wide receiver Steve Breaston has had arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee (first reported by XTRA’s Mike Jurecki). The Cards are unsure of exactly what Breaston’s return time frame will be, but it isn’t believed to be extensive. Not to compare the surgery of Breaston and Beanie Wells — who also had a meniscus repair — but Beanie missed two games and the Cards do have a bye week after the next two games in San Diego and home against New Orleans.

Obviously, not the best news. Breaston was hobbled a bit in the locker room yesterday but that was to be expected after he was banged up in Atlanta and then played against Oakland. Apparently, it was a little more than being banged up.

With WR Early Doucet still out, that certainly thins an already-thin receiving corps. The Cards did re-sign Onrea Jones yesterday, but even with all his back and forth with the roster, he has yet to play a regular-season game. I’d guess this puts Stephen Williams as the No. 2 and Max Komar as the No. 3, and I was told Andre Roberts had a great week of practice on offense last week. That’s a lot of rookies for the trip to San Diego.

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Welcome back Onrea Jones

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2010 – 3:55 pm

The Cardinals have brought back, yet again, wide receiver Onrea Jones. Jones, who has been with the Cards on and off since 2008, is a little insurance for a banged-up wide receiving corps. Early Doucet (hernia) is still out and Steve Breaston was limping around Monday with his bruised knee. If Breaston is troubled on game day, at least the Cards will have another veteran besides Larry Fitzgerald to lean upon.

To make room on the roster, the Cardinals released cornerback A.J. Jefferson. The Cards also cut running back Ian Johnson from the practice squad (so that’s a possible spot for Jefferson, I’d suspect).

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Whiz talks D.A. and other stuff Monday

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2010 – 11:43 am

Coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked point-blank if he could stick with QB Derek Anderson the way he is playing or if he needs to improve.

“Obviously I think Derek needs to improve,” Whisenhunt said. “That’s something he would tell you. I think he played a little better in the second half. He missed some plays in the first half that we have to improve on. We can’t leave them on the field. But the thing I like about Derek, he seems to make plays, especially later in the game, that are big plays for us. … We’ve got to get more consistent play out of Derek, but I think that’s a process we have to go through.”

Whiz added it is hard to have adjustments for certain plays and personnel groupings when all the receivers are on one level and Anderson is playing catch-up. What bothers Whiz is that there were “big-time plays,” plays that would have had big yardage or maybe a touchdown that the Cards missed. “When they come up in a game, you have to capitalize,” Whisenhunt said.

For example, there was the play in which Larry Fitzgerald was left in coverage with Raiders linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Had Anderson taken his time — there was little pressure — he should have been able to put some air under a throw and let Fitz go get it. But Anderson rushed himself and threw more of a line drive over Fitz’s head.

— Whisenhunt said the Cards came out of Sunday’s game in better shape health-wise than any game this season. I’d guess WR Steve Breaston still is going to be careful with the knee bruise he already had, but he played Sunday and I don’t expect him to miss the game in San Diego either.

— Whisenhunt said he is “not down” on rookie Andre Roberts as a punt returner. Roberts was hurt missing two weeks of preseason, when he would have worked more at the position. These are growing pains, Whisenhunt said, and it was “horrible’ that the defense was put in a position to make a stop and then twice have to go right back on the field after the punts hit the ground and bounced off Cardinals. Whiz even said the first one was just a fluke. The second has to be played better.

— He said the pass interference on CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a good call, since they called that penalty “fairly the whole day.” “We have to know in that situation we can’t arm bar or get in hand fights with the guy going down the field,” Whisenhunt added. “I’ll say this, if they are going to throw at someone at the end of the game, I hope they throw it at Dominique.”

— The Cards may continue to roll Anderson out, since it seemed to work pretty well yesterday.

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Raiders aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 26, 2010 – 11:05 pm

I think we all knew it wasn’t going to be easy watching this team this season. But after three games, it is turning out to be very, very hard.

Maybe hard isn’t the right word. Taxing certainly is. You feel good about Beanie Wells coming back and watching him average 5.4 yards a carry, you worry about Derek Anderson completing less than 50 percent of his passes. You feel good that the defense held up in the red zone, but understand the Raiders were able to move the ball quite a bit. You feel good the Cardinals win, but realize the other kicker isn’t missing a 32-yarder very often.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt joked about the “torture” a lot of these games will be. Whiz is right, of course. If the Cards win, it’s by any means necessary. But jeezum …

— The win was not pretty. But I’d guess the 49ers – now 0-3 – would kill to be an ugly 2-1 right now.

— If Beanie can run like that, the Cards will be in great shape. He and Tim Hightower can make some things happen. Is it enough to offset Anderson’s issues? Hopefully. “Obviously, I expect myself to play better the first three weeks,” Anderson said. “I’m doing everything I can. The coach says, ‘Hey, don’t put so much pressure on yourself’ but I want to be perfect.” Anderson completed only 12 of 26 passes for 122 yards (although it’s fair to point out his throws drew three pass interference penalties that accounted for an extra 74 yards).

— For the record, Whisenhunt was asked if there was consideration to put backup QB Max Hall in. “No, we didn’t think about that,” Whiz said.

— Larry Fitzgerald’s thoughts on the offense? “You know it could be worse, honestly,” Fitzgerald said. “I mean, if we were sitting 0-3, I’d probably be pulling my hair out.” Fitz had just two catches (out of seven targets). He was being covered by Pro Bowler Nnamdi Asomugha, but still. If the Cards were 0-3, I’m guessing Fitz would want to do much more than just pull his hair out. He wants to win, but he’s like any of those elite receivers – he wants the ball. This is got to be killing him.

— Whisenhunt said the most impressive part of the Cards’ defensive showing was their goal-line stand, and that’s true. But it may be the defense’s fourth-quarter showing period. The Raiders had possession for 12:19 of the final 15 minutes. The Cards ran exactly seven offensive plays in the final quarter for 12 yards. The Raiders ran 26 plays in the quarter. Sure, the Raiders missed two field goals in the period, but the fact the Cards held up means a lot. The Raiders ran another 70 offensive plays. This defense has been on the field a lot in three games.

— Cornerback Greg Toler is getting picked on unmercifully, but he’s holding up pretty well. That has to be a good sign for that secondary.

— Everybody did a solid job of springing LaRod Stephens-Howling on his 102-yard kickoff return but safety Rashad Johnson made sure he went all the way down the field to give the Hyphen his final block to get free. Johnson had a decent day defensively, too.

—  Rookie Andre Roberts’ first game as a punt returner probably isn’t going in the scrapbook. He only returned two for six total yards, and one of those he fielded inside his own 5-yard line (returning it only to the 5), a definite no-no. Two other punts he could field before they hit the ground, and the ball bounced off teammates for turnovers. The second punt actually might have been kicked a little short and Roberts did apparently tried to signal his teammates  — DRC heard/saw it, but when he stopped, the ball bounced and hit him – but it didn’t look like Roberts made the signal clear enough on the first. Those are turnovers the Cards absolutely can’t afford.

Big picture, it’s been a rough two games for Roberts and Max Komar as rookie punt return men. The Cards don’t want Steve Breaston returning punts but he definitely makes coaches feel more comfortable.

— Safety Kerry Rhodes had an excellent game. In on a ton of tackles, making a handful of pass breakups, blitzing the quarterback and getting pressure. If Rhodes plays like that, no one is going to worry about the departed Antrel Rolle. The Cards’ defense will be pretty well off too. Same if linebacker Paris Lenon – a sack, an interception – can play like that too.

Time to go to bed. Time to try and recover.

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