Indy doesn’t provide all the answers

Posted by Darren Urban on February 27, 2011 – 10:01 pm

As the combine wraps up – at least my portion of it – I think about watching Cam Newton’s workouts today.

Not live. I was there but not there, watching it on TV screens just like you did, if, you know, you watch such things. Then, after Newton ran and he threw, everyone tried to say it was really disappointing or really not. At the airport this evening, I was talking to an assistant coach (not from the Cardinals) and a fellow writer about Cam-mania and taking a risk on him — or any quarterback.

So much was written and tweeted today about the quarterback workouts, Newton and otherwise. People say Ryan Mallett was the best or Jake Locker or Christian Ponder. On the other side, Newton didn’t particularly throw well today. Not that it really matters. Newton’s physical gifts don’t change even if his throwing was errant today and Mallett’s off-field issues can’t be answered by some impressive passes. Somebody on Twitter pointed out the poor 40 times of one running back at the combine a couple years ago – in the 4.55 range – and noted it was Texans back Arian Foster. Foster just happened to lead the NFL in rushing this past season.

In the end, the combine is a piece of the puzzle but only a piece and, in most cases, only a small piece. It’s getting verified numbers in the bench press or the 40 rather than using hearsay. Is any team – say, for instance, the Cardinals – closer to making draft day decisions on any of these players? Maybe a little bit. But that doesn’t mean any team is thinking, “Oh, that’s the QB I want.” Not yet.

Two months until the draft. Still a long way to go.

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Haley wary of Fitz’s tackling skills

Posted by Darren Urban on February 27, 2011 – 8:49 am

Had a chance to talk to Chiefs coach (and former Cardinals offensive coordinator) Todd Haley yesterday when he opened the conversation about the long-past pickup basketball games we both used to take part in. Haley (who was wearing his NFC championship ring) isn’t playing hoops right now after tearing his quad muscle in his right leg — he’s rehabbing now — and that led to discussion about when he hurt it.

He actually hurt it right before the Cardinals played in Kansas City this season. Haley was trying to keep the injury out of the spotlight, but he couldn’t stop thinking about a Larry Fitzgerald tackle.

A little background: Fitz likes to tackle. It comes out of nowhere, completely random. I’ve seen him take down teammates, strength coach John Lott and media members (Yes, I have been a victim). And Haley, who was targeted more than a few times when he coached in Arizona, was thinking about dealing with a good-natured Fitz wrap-up in Kansas City. He went so far to send a message to Fitz through an intermediary imploring Fitzgerald not to take him down.

At one point right before the game, with Haley limping toward the locker room, Fitz was coming the other way for some reason, and began running toward Haley. The worst-case scenario went through Haley’s head and he yelled to Fitz to be careful. But Fitzgerald was ready, assuring Haley — with whom Fitzgerald grew close in their time in Arizona — he knew better, before giving him a much more gentle embrace.

And no, I do not expect Fitzgerald to play defensive back any time soon.

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Interesting day for QBs on the podium

Posted by Darren Urban on February 26, 2011 – 2:22 pm

Two quarterbacks with big questions hovering around them met with the media today. Both had sessions that left a lot of those questions.

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett was first, with drug use rumors having just recently been  reported. Mallett tried to deflect the questions, insisting he would talk to the various teams about the talk but wasn’t going to talk about it with the media, dismissing them as just rumors. “People can talk about me if they want to but I’m going to play my game,” Mallett said. But the questions didn’t go away, and when one reporter asked a final time that the questions weren’t going to end if Mallett didn’t answer them, Mallett ended the session with a quick thanks before stepping off the podium.

Mallett’s stock has been wildly speculated about, where he will go in the draft. Some thought he could be a high pick. Lately, there seems to be a thought he’ll drop, perhaps to the second round or later. Mallett said the strength of his game is mental, and he’ll have to be mentally strong to maneuver the latest talk.

Then came Auburn QB Cam Newton, who has not only had his own troubled past but recently caught everyone’s attention when he told Sports Illustrated he not only was going to be a football player but also “an entertainer and an icon.” Newton answered the question right away himself, although stunningly pulled out a piece of paper to read it as a prepared statement that football was his No. 1 priority. (He said the statement was misunderstood, and took the blame for that.)

Newton’s arrival stopped the media room — normally there is a buzz of background noise, but almost everyone in the huge room surrounded Newton as he spoke. He looked much more comfortable than Mallett, but was taking the same tack with his past transgressions at the University of Florida. “What I did in the past is in the past,” Newton said. “I’m not going to entertain questions about the past. I’m all about the future.” Newton did come across polished — and overall, better than Mallett in that setting.

Interestingly, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, the other highly rated QB, came off pretty well Friday when he spoke. Of course, the media interviews aren’t what teams are going to look at. It’s the one-on-ones, and I’d expect those — given the millions of dollars at stake — will be a lot tougher to sit through for the players.

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On Fitz and Porter

Posted by Darren Urban on February 25, 2011 – 1:01 pm

General manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt met with the media at the combine today. Nothing earthshattering came out of it, but I will have a story in a bit on the homepage and there were a couple of other notes of interest.

— Talks are ongoing on a contract extension for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, with his contract set to expire after 2011. The Cards can sign him to an extension before the potential work stoppage, but when/if there is a work stoppage, that opportunity ends until a new CBA is reached (and right now, the league year is set to end 10 p.m. Arizona time March 3).

“Obviously the window is getting shorter in terms of being able to close something before the end of the (league) year,” Graves said. “We will see what happens over the next week or week-and-a-half. Again, the objective is to extend his deal. The only real time line on it is the expiration of his contract, so we will work until we feel we can get the deal done.”

That’s was the extent of Graves’ analysis. There are going to be two factors here: The amount of money Fitzgerald can get (and the Cardinals know he’s going to want a lot, and are going to be willing to pay), and then Fitzgerald’s willingness to sign such a deal given the state of the Cards and more importantly, the quarterback situation. The QB situation can’t be addressed before the end of the league year, so I’m not sure Fitzgerald’s situation will change before then.

(And, repeating facts already in evidence, Fitzgerald has a no-trade clause and cannot be given the franchise tag, factors that will impact Fitzgerald as he gets near the end of his deal).

— Meanwhile, Whisenhunt was asked to assess veteran linebacker Joey Porter, who remains in a precarious position for 2011 given his salary of more than $5 million and his struggles late in the season.

“I can honestly say it is hard to say anyone had a good year when we had the type of record last year,” Whisenhunt said. “Joey was in a situation that was tough for him, he was playing a tremendous amount of snaps and for a player his age that was tough and that was not our intent. Our intent was to rotate players in there and give him a break. The latter part of the season, he wore down.

“I give Joey a tremendous amount of credit because he fought every day to get through practice, to work hard and be a good example. But I think he’d tell you he wasn’t as productive, especially late in the season, as he had been in the past. But we could say that about a lot of guys. I expect to see Joey come in and compete and try to get back to the player he had been for us and we’ll see how that progresses.”

I assume the player who was supposed to be Porter’s rotation was Cody Brown, who underwhelmed so much in training camp he was cut before the season began. Whenever the offseason gets started, Porter’s situation — and how he (and his contract) fits on the defense — will be one of the more intriguing storylines.

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Considering Kolb

Posted by Darren Urban on February 24, 2011 – 9:50 pm

General manager Rod Graves couldn’t talk about it today and realistically, nothing can happen unless/until the new CBA is finalized. But floating around the NFL combine Thursday — not surprisingly — was talk of Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, and his possible availability on the trade market.

Let’s say he is available. What would the cost be? The general feeling here is those teams at the top of the draft — many of whom need a quarterback — probably wouldn’t deal a No. 1 pick.

“I’m sure if you asked the Eagles I’m sure (Kolb’s value) is really high,” NFL Network analyst and former NFL GM Michael Lombardi said. “I think there’s so many teams devoid of quarterbacks it creates the market. It only takes two teams and then all of a sudden the player’s value isn’t the same. Donovan McNabb goes for a second(-round pick) and a fifth. Is Kevin Kolb worth more than that? That would be hard for me to think that based on his tape last year.”

The question really is whether the Eagles want to trade him in the first place. Michael Vick is their starter, but he is only franchised right now and thus under control until 2011. Kolb’s contract, as we have said many times before, is incredibly affordable in 2011 — except Kolb doesn’t want to stay as a backup and he could walk away for nothing after next season.

“He’s obviously looking forward to being a good starting quarterback, and a lot could happen,” Eagles GM Howie Roseman said.

“We’re still evaluating all our options and all our positions. Obviously we’ve been really fortunate to have good quarterbacks. There’s Michael, there’s Kevin, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in Mike Kafka, so that’s a position that we’re always going to want to be strong at … We don’t discuss any (trade) discussions, external or internal.”

As for Roseman’s assessment for Kolb’s trade value? “Everything is just projecting.”

True. But right now, that’s all we have.

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Some combine tidbits

Posted by Darren Urban on February 24, 2011 – 11:23 am

It’s been a slow start today (which is usual for the first day in Indy). Few players have come by yet, but there have been a bunch of coaches and GMs. So there have been a few things to chew on:

— New Broncos coach John Fox was going over his quarterback list and said Kyle Orton is his starter right now. There had been reports Orton would be on the trade block (but there have also been reports the new staff isn’t thrilled with Tim Tebow). Obviously, if Orton was available, he’s been a name many would consider for the Cards. So Fox was asked about the idea Orton’s name had been reportedly on the trade block, in light of the fact Fox had just said he was the starter. “It’d be pretty hard to be both,” Fox said.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Orton couldn’t be traded. But today, I didn’t get the sense he was available.

— Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said he didn’t think new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should be classified as a “passing guy” and that RB Steven Jackson will still get plenty of work.

— New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about his quarterback situation (San Francisco has the seventh overall pick and lately, reports have Harbaugh talking up the idea of keeping free agent Alex Smith in the mix, if Smith is willing to return). “I’m not going to tip my hand with what we’re going to do,” said Harbaugh (pictured below). “But I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

— Interesting to see that Harbaugh and Ravens coach John Harbaugh — who spoke an hour apart at the podium — still made sure each was around and listening when the other got up in front of the media.

That’s it for now. Don’t forget the Graves/Keim chat in a bit right here.

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Chatting from a room with a view

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2011 – 4:41 pm

Indianapolis is the anti-Dallas — meaning it’s cold, but no snow. You can see Lucas Oil Stadium from my hotel room (proof below). And speaking of my room, that’s where the computer will be hooked up for tomorrow’s live chat with general manager Rod Graves and director of player personnel Steve Keim (the link is here), which will begin a little after 1 p.m. Arizona time. As you can imagine, time is precious here in Indy, but we will have some combination of 15- or 20-minute chats each or one bigger one for about 30-40 minutes. Obviously we will get to as many questions as we can (and try to be realistic; Don’t bother asking flat out if the Cards will take a QB with the first pick, for instance. They don’t know yet and even if they did, I don’t see it being revealed on a live chat in February).

Before then, I’ll be over at the stadium as the first wave of players, coaches and GMs come through the media area. Because so many athletes train at the Valley’s Athletes Performance, our flight today had a heavy NFL-bent — among those I saw on the plane were Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert, Washington QB Jake Locker and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, along with Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator Mike Miller and special teams coach Kevin Spencer.

Welcome to Indy 2011.

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Heading to the combine

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2011 – 6:08 am

It’s Indy time again.

I, along with a handful of offensive coaches (and head coach Ken Whisenhunt) will be on our way to Indianapolis today for the Scouting Combine. Some coaches, scouts and other team personnel are already there, and more will arrive over the next few days as the event progresses from offensive to defensive players. I’ll be keeping you up to date with stories and blog posts, while director of broadcasting Tim DeLaney will do some video chronicling we think you’ll enjoy. We also have a tentative plan for Thursday live chats with both GM Rod Graves and director of player personnel Steve Keim — as soon as I nail down specific times, I’ll let everyone know.

It’s always good to be talking football.

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Did Coach play?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2011 – 11:37 am

It was a topic that was mentioned more than once when the Cardinals had hired Ray Horton – who played in the NFL for a decade – as their defensive coordinator. The idea that players might have a deeper respect for someone who had been them.

Horton summed it up pretty well, I think, with this line: “It gives you some credibility that you have sat in the same chairs they’re in,” he said. “It helps until they say, ‘Why’d you call that?!?’ ”

And ultimately, that seems to be the general feeling.

“I have seen some very good coaches that didn’t play,” said head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who of course played near a decade himself in the NFL. “So I don’t know if it has an impact if you can’t coach. Players are smart enough, if you’re not getting it done on the field as a coach, they’ll recognize it pretty quick. If you have been a player, obviously you get a little bit of respect, because they know you’ve been through some of the same battles they have.

“But if you’re not a very good coach, it doesn’t matter what you say or what your background is, guys are going to tune you out pretty quick. They are interested in winning and getting better. If you can help them do that, they’ll listen to you.”

Of the current staff, Whisenhunt, Horton, assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm, quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and assistant defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend played in the league. The majority did not.

“Once you get into (practices and meetings) you don’t think about it,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “But if they played your position, it’s better because they understand you and the thoughts you have.”

The defensive backs may have the most interesting combo given the three latest hires. Horton played, but has been out of the game for 17 seasons. New defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi didn’t play (and in fact was on his first NFL coaching staff at age 19 as a Jets assistant). Meanwhile, Townsend not only played, but he was just playing as recently as November and will be learning the coaching ropes on the fly.

“I think the main thing a player wants is consistency,” Townsend said. “That’s what I wanted, to (have a coach) say one thing in July and to say the same thing in February. You don’t want a guy saying something and changing his mind. And be fair.

“You’re going to have to make decisions, but everyone in the room has to be accountable. I loved to have a coach who, when he made a mistake, he said it and when I made a mistake, he let me know. We have to grow that and teach them what we are looking for, but to be true professionals, those guys have to understand that’s the business of football.”

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Townsend’s sudden sunset

Posted by Darren Urban on February 21, 2011 – 8:59 am

Technically, Deshea Townsend still hasn’t retired. Still, don’t expect him to return to the playing field. That’s pretty much over.

Townsend now sits in a side office among the Cardinals’ coaches, the new assistant defensive backs coach hired just a little more than three months from his final NFL play, in a game when he  knocked down a pass against the Eagles Nov. 7 playing for the Colts. Released from the roster a couple of days later, Townsend had already begun to mull his athletic mortality before the season even started (he didn’t sign as a free agent with Indianapolis until the beginning of August).

“I haven’t even put my papers in for retirement,” Townsend said, taking a break from some paperwork grading out the players he now must oversee. “It’s pretty neat to have the option, even before you are done. I was at a point, even last year when I was a free agent, I thought, ‘If someone calls, good, if they don’t, they don’t. I’ll ride off into the sunset.’ It’s not hard for me to walk away … although I’m sure when we get started I’m going to want to get out there and be in the mix.”

Townsend still wasn’t 100 percent he was done playing (he had a 13-year career at defensive back), but felt the decision was made for him. As happens with many possible coaching changes, Townsend was on a short list and got a phone call from Horton asking if he was ready to coach if Horton ended up getting the job (Townsend would have likely also been brought on board had Keith Butler been hired as defensive coordinator).

Now he’s hoping to impart some wisdom on guys like DRC and Greg Toler, wisdom that allowed him to play more than a decade in the league — and, I suppose, could get longer, since, you know, he hasn’t retired yet (No sign yet that there will be any Brett Favre comparisons.

“At 35, it’s a good thing (to coach),” Townsend said. “It’s neat to have something to step into, but it keeps me in the game, a game I love. If I can help a young guy reach his goals, that’s my next challenge. That’s what you always want, is a challenge.”

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