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Blogs

Traveling Fitz helps again

Posted by Darren Urban on March 31, 2011 – 12:10 pm

Last year, I wrote about Larry Fitzgerald’s offseason travels and his return, noting that part of his trip was to aid one of his Minnesota neighbors — Bill Austin — who runs Starkey Hearing Foundation. Fitzgerald has worked with Austin a few times in the past helping fit needy kids with hearing aids in countries where they can’t usually get them. Last year, it was India.

This year, Fitz is part of a much bigger group of NFL players in Rwanda doing the same.

“The first time I helped someone to hear, I was so moved. I was emotional,” Fitzgerald told ESPN.com. “To see a child hear their mother’s voice for the first time and see their family’s reaction is one of the moments I will never forget. We all have basic needs, and hearing is one of those needs.”


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The Top Five

Posted by Darren Urban on March 30, 2011 – 1:54 pm

No, we’re not talking former Cardinals cornerback Robert “Top Five” Tate, who used to put together top five lists all the time — including football lists, which inevitably included himself. Instead, we’re talking about the guys who will be considered for the top five picks in the draft. It sure seems like this is the list:

  • QB Cam Newton
  • QB Blaine Gabbert
  • DT Marcell Dareus
  • WR A.J. Green
  • DE Da’Quan Bowers
  • LB Von Miller
  • CB Patrick Peterson

I don’t include DT Nick Fairley anymore because it doesn’t seem like anyone else is either. It leaves us with seven names, and the all-powerful quarterback situation. In Carolina, my man Darin Gantt believes there are only three legit possibilities for the No. 1 pick, and he has long believed it will end up being Cam Newton. For Denver, the pull has been strong for Dareus, since a) John Fox has always been a guy who likes to build up front; b) the Broncos were so porous and c) they have Elvis Dumervil coming back from injury so Miller might not be as necessary. Although Miller and Peterson have been mentioned (It has to be defense in Denver, right?).

Buffalo could use a QB, but Chan Gailey seems to want defense, so Miller has been a popular possibility for a team that uses the 3-4 and needs a pass rush. If the Cards want Miller, it seems the Bills will be the key. The Bengals figure to go offense, whether a QB or WR. The Cards, who have hinted many times they aren’t necessarily looking QB early, still don’t seem to make sense with a pick like that. Here’s the question, assuming Miller is gone: Could you make Bowers work in your defense? Is Peterson good enough? Do you reach outside the above list of names? By the time we get to the draft, would my list above change?

I wonder what Top Five Tate’s list would look like?


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Time to chat

Posted by Darren Urban on March 29, 2011 – 2:18 pm

With NFL talk all about speculation instead of hard news right now, I figure it’s a good time to have a live chat, so tomorrow (Wednesday), we’ll have one at 11:30 a.m. right here at this link. I’ll answer the best I can about whatever you might want to talk about, whether it is draft or free agency (whenever that is) or potential trades (whenever that can happen) or whatever.

Please tune in. I’ll answer as long as we have (reasonable) questions. You can even ask about that quarterback, that guy who is soon to be dumped by a second team in about a year that many keep connecting to the Cards but I might have mentioned won’t be coming. (Well, you can ask. But I am not ruling out sarcasm in the answer.)


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The case of Quinn and Bowers

Posted by Darren Urban on March 29, 2011 – 11:13 am

While everyone continues to wonder about how the first five picks of the draft will go — including me — this week could make an impact on the upper part of the round. Friday, Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers is holding a private workout to show teams his knee surgery was minor and he indeed is ready to go and perform as the player who notched 16 sacks last season. The day before is North Carolina’s pro day, where teams can further scrutinize perhaps the biggest wild card that high in the draft — defensive end-who-can-be-a-linebacker Robert Quinn. Quinn (pictured below at the Scouting combine) didn’t play in 2010 after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA for improperly taking benefits from agents.

In 2009, Quinn had 11 sacks. He is athletic but raw and would have to make the transition from defensive end to linebacker if he played for the Cardinals. But he is a pass rusher to consider if Von Miller is indeed gone by pick No. 5 (The Cardinals will have multiple representatives at both Bowers’ and Carolina’s workouts).

Even if the Cards wouldn’t take them (Bowers doesn’t seem to fit the Cards’ scheme) they could be candidates to go in the top four, Bowers especially.  That, of course, could change some things.


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Mockingly, a vote for Peterson

Posted by Darren Urban on March 28, 2011 – 4:53 pm

I know people love to look at mock drafts but they seem rather silly to me, especially more than a few days out — so much can still change (the Cards, for instance, haven’t even started to build their draft board) and it’s usually an exercise in futility anyway.

That said, it is fun to talk about and debate, and NFL.com has been doing a video mock the past few years, getting someone who covers the team to make a pick for that team and explain some of the reasoning behind it. I did that last week, and now the top eight picks are posted on NFL.com. The way it works is they come to you and let you know what players are gone and you move from there. In this mock, the top four picks before the Cards were on the clock looked like this:

  • Carolina — QB Cam Newton, Auburn
  • Denver — DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
  • Buffalo — LB Von Miller, Texas A&M
  • Cincinnati — WR A.J. Green, Georgia

Obviously, Miller being off the board takes away a player many link to the Cards right now. It leaves two names that have floated around consistently in QB Blaine Gabbert and CB Patrick Peterson.

In this instance, as you can see in the video, I went with Peterson.

I am not saying I feel sure about such a pick. Peterson is expected to be one of the best, if not the best, players available. As I noted in my explanation, however, there seem to be a lot of parallels to Antrel Rolle that would at least make me hesitate. It’s also possible Gabbert is impressing the Cards when they get a chance to talk to him. Some, at this point, think Gabbert would be impossible for the Cards to pass up. And maybe the need for a pass rusher goes beyond keying on Miller, too.

As has been said many times, the quarterbacks hold the key to the top five. If Newton and Gabbert are both chosen, it looks so much different than if they are not. Realistically, all five teams need a QB — or at least it can be said that none are sure they have their long-term quarterback currently.

In this case, Peterson seems to be an impact player on the defense, which the Cards could use (yes, I do have concerns about a low Wonderlic score; it’s not the end-all, be-all, but it can’t be ignored either). I think impacting the defense is important. Would they go with him over say, Gabbert, if this is how it plays out? I guess we won’t know unless this is how it plays out.

P.S. By the way, just in case anyone wasn’t sure


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Cards get extra pick, Fitz, and giving back

Posted by Darren Urban on March 25, 2011 – 3:07 pm

The NFL finally announced the 2011 compensatory draft picks Friday. The Cardinals ended up with a bonus seventh rounder (248th overall, and their only seventh rounder since their own pick was traded away in the Kerry Rhodes deal) right at the end of the draft and it wasn’t even because they suffered big free-agent losses. Yep — if you had been expecting the loss of LB Karlos Dansby (and K Neil Rackers) to gain the Cards a good pick, you were wrong. The Cards signed FAs Rex Hadnot, K Jay Feely and LB Paris Lenon, and I’d guess Lenon and Feely played well enough to offset Dansby and Rackers.

The reason the Cardinals got an extra pick is because the NFL wants to make sure there are 32 comp picks overall to balance out the draft, so after they doled out the picks based on teams losing key free agents (the Panthers, for example, got an extra third-rounder and sixth-rounder for losing Julius Peppers and A.J. Feeley and not signing anyone of note) there were still 11 picks needed to get to 32. So the top 11 teams in the draft order (Arizona, of course, being at No. 5) got a extra seventh at the very back of the draft.

(Don’t ask how the league comes up with the exact formula of why some free agents are more important than others. It’s not public knowledge, but it is based on contract size, playing time and postseason honors. And realize that losing Antrel Rolle didn’t count because he was cut and didn’t have his contract expire. Same reason it didn’t hurt the Cards to sign Alan Faneca, Derek Anderson, Jay Feely and Joey Porter).

– Posted a story on the need for Fitz to get a quarterback. Yes, it sounds obvious, and on many levels it is. But Fitz’s quest for greatness means there have to be style points in his numbers (because he still had stats this season). There have to be wins and it has to matter. So in some ways, this situation is deeper than the obvious.

– Michael Bidwill was on hand Thursday afternoon to present a check for$21,250 to the Ronald McDonald House from Cardinals Charities and Albertson’s. raised through the Cards’ annual golf tourney. Valerie Slowik, the wife of quality control coach Ryan Slowik, is heavily involved in helping the House.


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Whiz talks Levi

Posted by Darren Urban on March 25, 2011 – 9:36 am

The play of tackle Levi Brown has been an oft-discussed topic, and he obviously has his critics, especially in the fan base. But as I have written before, coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff are not unhappy with his play, and Whisenhunt reiterated that again at the recent owners’ meetings. Mike Sando has all the quotes and the breakdowns — Sando points out there are many first-rounders from that season Brown has probably outperformed — but there is the reality Levi will always be graded down because of how high he was selected (and because everyone knows by now the Cards considered taking Adrian Peterson with the selection).

“Any time an offensive lineman gets drafted that high, especially in a fantasy football world where people want you to get dynamic playmakers, you are going to face some kind of criticism,” Whisenhunt said. “I have to give Levi some credit. As tough as it’s been, he hasn’t let it affect him. He has continued to work and get better and I think this will be a big year for him. This is a chance for him to show that he can play this position very well.”

Will Brown ever get to a Pro Bowl level? Well, usually we’d know that by now. But for all the people — and I hear from many of them — who want to dump him period, that’s not going to happen. Nor do I think should it.

“The reason we drafted Levi where we did was because we had him rated high enough to go in that position, but we also felt like we had to develop our offensive line and defensive line at that point, because that is where the most critical component of your team,” Whisenhunt said. “That is the only way you are going to have a chance to compete. Levi has been a good player. He is often criticized, but I think that comes with being the fifth pick, and I don’t understand how you evaluate offensive linemen, because they are not catching passes or running touchdowns in.”


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Draft “news” and mocks

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2011 – 2:44 pm

As the news of the Cards’ visit with Blaine Gabbert blew up yesterday afternoon, the back-and-forth of Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers’ knee has erupted and the travel schedule of Cam Newton has been documented, it made me think this column by agent Jack Bechta about the media and the draft.

As someone who has covered the draft and the league for a long time both on the outside as a newspaper reporter and on the semi-inside with this job (believe me, it’s not like I get to know everything just because I’m in the building), much of what Bechta says I understand. Does everyone? I don’t know. It’s a great read though, putting in perspective everything reported upon this time of year. Among the parts that I’d want to highlight:

– The media has very little impact on a team’s draft board. Writes Bechta, “What (the media) don’t have are the important pieces of the puzzle that have a huge impact on what decisions are ultimately made on draft day. The media lacks access to college injury files, Combine physical reports, first hand character reports from college coaches and teammates, and the whispers that come from college trainers and position and strength coaches who usually know more about the players than anyone.”

– Agents leak all this info to “drive up” draft stock (even though we just noted such stock doesn’t rise because of the media): “Agents right now are exaggerating 40 times, the amount of private workouts and visits, along with getting their clients multiple interviews in different markets with hopes of heightening their profile.”

– And finally this walk-off: “It’s been my experience since being in the business that NFL teams give very little clues as to who they will draft.”

I certainly don’t want to end pre-draft speculation — right now, it’s all I have to work with — but it’s not a science. This stuff is more an art, because science implies it can be figured out with facts, and I’m not sure that’s true. Last season, I mocked that the Cards would take Daryl Washington in the first round, because a) I had Dan Williams picked long before their choice even though I knew they’d look at him late in the first round; b) I knew they needed a replacement for Karlos Dansby, who left (and, in hindsight, still did leave, after Kurt Warner retired) the biggest hole of all the departures last offseason; and c) I had all the other top inside linebackers off the board by the time the Cards “picked.” They ended up getting Washington later, but there was obviously coincidence involved.

Take the Gabbert visit. Some wanted to jump on the fact the Bidwills attended the private workout. Not that Michael Bidwill didn’t want to go, but he was the pilot flying his father and the rest of the Cards to and from the owners’ meetings, so if Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves were going to piggyback the workout with the meetings, Bidwill had to be there, right? Doesn’t mean the Cards have locked in on the QB.

Again, everyone will (and should) keep talking about all this stuff. I took part in an NFL.com mock that will be put up Monday (and I will talk about it then). I’ll do a mock first round draft week. The Cards owning the fifth pick (and therefore being in the running for all the top names) and needing a QB only has intensified speculation this year. But there is a reason most mocks are in tatters once you get past pick four or five (OK, maybe seven) every year.

P.S. Here’s a really good blog item by Kent Somers breaking down the “elusive” ability of Beanie Wells, via stats from profootballfocus.com. In a nutshell, Beanie needs better blocking, but he also needs to break/avoid more tackles. But give it a read.


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Not all Madden choices created equal

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2011 – 10:50 am

This year, EA Sports has decided to make a contest out of who will be their cover photo for this year’s version of the Madden football video game. Given the past season, I guess I assumed Aaron Rodgers was a shoo-in for Madden ’12, but no, Rodgers is just one of 32 candidates — one from every team. It’s also set up in bracket form, so we aren’t just talking about the total number of votes.

There are many cover possibilities that make sense — Rodgers, Matt Ryan, DeMarcus Ware, Patrick Willis, Adrian Peterson, Julius Peppers, Andre Johnson — and others that I look at and think, ‘A good player, but a cover?’ — guys like Peyton Hillis, Jake Long, Josh Freeman. There are repeat candidates, guys who have already been on the cover before, like Drew Brees, Michael Vick and, for the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald.

But just when you find a couple of head-scratchers (The Bengals’ Carlos Dunlap, the Bills’ Steve Johnson, the Patriots’ Danny Woodhead, Tim Tebow?) you end up freezing on the option for Seattle. Apparently, they have no player worthy of the honor, at least none important enough to usurp “The 12th Man” — the name the Seahawks give to their crowd (which yes, can be very loud, but is generally a non-factor if the team is lousy — just like any other crowd).

The 12th Man faces the aforementioned Willis in the first round, so I’d guess Willis will be the one to advance there. But still, the Qwest crowd? Really? Not, oh, maybe Mike Williams? Marshawn Lynch?

Besides, how exactly does the Madden curse affect that group — I’d be afraid of a natural disaster on game day.


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Cards work out Gabbert

Posted by Darren Urban on March 23, 2011 – 1:06 pm

There has been much talk about who the Cards are going to work out privately leading into the draft. One guy was Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. On the way back from the league meetings in New Orleans, a group of Cardinals — owner Bill Bidwill, president Michael Bidwill, general manager Rod Graves, coach Ken Whisenhunt and director of player personnel Steve Keim — stopped in Missouri to have dinner with Gabbert Tuesday night and then worked him out this morning.

Does it mean Gabbert’s the guy at No. 5? Of course not. I’d guess this isn’t the only workout planned for the top-echelon players. But clearly, Gabbert is in the mix for consideration.


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