Needing the offseason

Posted by Darren Urban on May 31, 2011 – 2:29 pm

As the opportunity for any organized offseason work drains away with the passing days, there is a legitimate argument both ways over the importance of the offseason and what it means to each team. Last week, veteran NFL writer Vito Stellino — through SI’s Peter King — talked about how the offseason work once didn’t exist and the NFL operated just fine.

Again, it’s a fair point to make. Notes Stellino, “The real reason for these things is Parkinson’s Law. Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” He points out that players once had to work in the offseason to make enough money, and it’s only with the advent of bigger contracts — and the ability for players to not have to work — that have allowed players to be available to do more each offseason.

Perhaps. I would tend to argue the other side.

Growing up in Arizona, before the Cards moved here, I got into sports right at the time when the Steelers were king. My mom bought me a Lynn Swann jersey at a garage sale right before the second Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl, and I had my childhood team. I mention this only because I have a few VHS tapes of Steelers’ games from my youth — nostalgia and all that — and I have watched them. Run-of-the-mill regular-season contests. And what do I notice? That that game is nothing like what is being played today.

I know, that seems obvious. But it factors into today’s offseason work. Today’s playbook is more complicated. The premium placed on not turning the ball over is so much higher than it used to be (watch those 70’s QBs huck the ball downfield in search of a big play; interceptions weren’t good but they weren’t as frowned upon as now). Running, running, running was much more commonplace. Precision in the passing game — which takes reps — wasn’t as important.

The other factor? This is to which what these players have become accustomed. They are used to getting some offseason work with teammates and coaches. What happens when they don’t get it? And, of course, that doesn’t account for specific situations — like the Cards — who will be breaking in a new QB too.

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Talking more Kolb

Posted by Darren Urban on May 30, 2011 – 7:52 pm

What’d I miss?

I know of one thing: Kevin Kolb showed up to some of the workouts Eagles players were having, so naturally, he was asked about being traded. And the quarterback said what would be expected, that he wants to be a starter and he wished he already knew where he’d be playing in 2011. No, nothing really is different from the last time I talked about Kolb. Or the time before that. There is little question, as in the dead of this offseason Kolb continues to be dissected over and over, there is a immovable object/irresistible force feel to Kolb’s situation, whenever it plays out.

Take the Cards, for instance. We all know they need a quarterback, and while it’s impossible to know what they a) are willing to give up for a QB right now and b) think about the worth of Kolb, it’s fair to think they will consider Kolb heavily. In theory, the Eagles are dealing from a certain position of strength there, with the Cards or an other team. They don’t have to trade Kolb, after all.

But Kolb’s impending free agent status after 2011 looms large, regardless of the collective poker face the Eagles may want to put on. It may allow the Eagles to talk about getting enough to offset the reality Kolb could be the ultimate Michael Vick insurance policy. In the end, though, it’s hard to believe Philly won’t want to get something for Kolb ahead of time. What’s the more palatable risk: A backup-less Vick and an extra draft pick or two, or letting Kolb sit around all season — and assume Vick will get hurt — before letting him walk?

I am looking forward to the time when we can talk about this as after-the-fact analysis instead of speculation.

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The most interesting Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on May 20, 2011 – 4:54 pm

Some people are just born to have lives other people talk about. I mean doesn’t it seem that’s how it is with Larry Fitzgerald? He’s not old and I don’t know if he drinks Dos Equis, but I’m not sure he couldn’t be in the running for most interesting man in the world. He makes a ton of cash, is a football superhero, and in the offseason, he hangs out with cheetahs and helps third-world kids who have hearing problems.

Speaking of Fitzgerald, is calling the Cards’ 27-26 win over the Cowboys the 16th-best game of the past season, and given how much the Cards struggled, I’ll take that. It was certainly a thrilling Christmas present. I am guessing the Cowboys fans would disagree. Between the Toler/DRC TD returns, Jay Feely booting key field goals and Skelton-to-Fitz on fourth-and-15, however, plenty of fond memories.

And with that, I’m out of the office for a week. Catch up with you later.

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Revisionist History: The stadium game

Posted by Darren Urban on May 20, 2011 – 1:30 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

It was probably just coincidence, because to think otherwise might be stretching things a bit.

Still, the Cardinals beating the Redskins, 16-15, on Nov. 5, 2000, just two days before the public vote that would eventually get the Cardinals a new stadium, couldn’t have been timed any better. And, in many ways, couldn’t have been more improbable. Head coach Vince Tobin had been fired just two weeks before. Interim coach Dave McGinnis was at the helm for a team that, when it was over, finished 3-13. The season ended with a seven-game losing streak, and had the breaks not broken as they did that day against the Redskins, the losing streak would have been 11 all told.

With many people wondering if the public would indeed approve a stadium for a team struggling so bad, the Cards came up with a win. A crazy win. The Redskins, who were 6-3 coming into the game, outgained the Cards, 431 yards to 178. A bad snap cost the Redskins an extra point, and Washington kicker Kris Heppner missed 51- and 33-yard field goals (yes, Heppner was out of a job the next day). “The kicker choked and that helped us a lot,” Cardinals linebacker Sekou Sanyika said in one of the more blunt post-game quotes I’ve ever gotten.

But the lasting memory was cornerback Aeneas Williams. After Washington drove down (easily) to the Arizona 1-yard line, linebacker Mark Maddox stripped running back Stephen Davis of the ball. Williams (pictured below) scooped up the ball in the end zone, got to the sideline and raced a record-tying 104 yards for a touchdown (originally Williams was credited with a 103-yard return but the Elias Sports Bureau gave him the extra yard the next day upon further review). Williams did cartwheels on the field after the Redskins’ final pass fell incomplete, and all that was left was to wonder if it could/would impact the stadium vote.

It’s impossible to know if it did for sure, as it was impossible to know if the door-to-door campaigning McGinnis and quarterback Jake Plummer, among others, did too. It was an incredibly close vote. The result for Proposition 302 was impossible to call at first, and the days dragged by with more uncertainty. Finally, though, the Cardinals and the 302 crowd were able to claim victory (with about 52 percent of the vote) and what was to become University of Phoenix Stadium took its first — albeit biggest — step forward on Nov. 15, 2000, 10 days after beating the Redskins.

Of course, there were some roller-coaster moments while trying to find a site to put the stadium, but that’s a blog post for another day. In this moment in time, Aeneas Williams and the Cardinals pulled out what may have been their most important win, at least in terms of the Arizona Cardinals. It was the vehicle the team needed to reach a competitive level, the centerpiece of a organizational metamorphosis (It’s tough to imagine, without a new building, the Cards reaching a Super Bowl). Plus it kept the team in town. I wasn’t planning on trying to go to California to cover the Los Angeles Cardinals.

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Patrick Peterson is virtually No. 1

Posted by Darren Urban on May 19, 2011 – 4:01 pm

No, Patrick Peterson hasn’t been on the field yet in an NFL game. But the expectations for his play, even as a rookie, are high well beyond here in Arizona.

Turns out Peterson is the highest-rated rookie in the upcoming release of “Madden ’12,” the top video game out there for the NFL. The game uses a scale of 1-100 (with 100 being the best) to rank players on a multitude of attributes, and the way those interact with all the other players allows for games to play out. Peterson is an overall 82, but his speed is 97, his agility 96 and his acceleration 93 — all par for the course when you run a 4.34 40 at the combine, I suppose. He is ranked higher in press (90) and man (89) coverage than zone (82) which fits his profile.

Hopefully, real-life PP matches up to virtual PP.

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Feeling familiar

Posted by Darren Urban on May 19, 2011 – 3:26 pm

While everyone waits for the league year to start — and, at its root, waits for the Cardinals to have a chance to figure out its quarterback situation — the possibilities remain open speculation. Suddenly, it begins to feel very familiar.

In fact, as I read about how NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi felt about Kevin Kolb during a Sports 620 KTAR interview this morning, and how Kolb has generated a range of believers and non-believers when it comes to his abilities and what it could mean to the Cardinals if there indeed was a trade here, it felt very deja vu. Is Kolb the right guy? What’s he worth in a trade? Is what the Eagles want and what the Cards (assuming they’d want Kolb) are willing to give up at least in the same ballpark? Hard to know, given Kolb’s relatively short career and seven NFL starts.

This is about more than Kolb, though. So many questions are flying around about Marc Bulger too, and he’s got a much longer resume. And Donovan McNabb and Kyle Orton and even Carson Palmer. I realized it reminded me so much of the ramp-up before a draft when it comes to quarterbacks. Obviously, the veterans have played in the league, but this feels a lot like how Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett, etc., were deconstructed over and over. Such as Sam Bradford last year.

It’s the position, of course. It’s the position and the importance it carries and, this offseason, its the days of dead time that allows for possible paralysis by analysis. The trade market for a player like Kolb doesn’t hurt either; unlike the draft, there is someone on the other side of the equation (the Eagles, in this case) hoping Kolb’s value is driven up during all these discussions.

Like the draft, however, it’ll be impossible to know what any of these quarterbacks could really do in a different situation until they get to a new place. Until someone gets here to Arizona. The naysayers could be right about Kolb, for instance. But like the draft, that’s why a team has scouts. They scout veteran players too. You have to assume, whichever player the Cards chase, they believe he will be successful. Why else get him?

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DRC/PP expectations

Posted by Darren Urban on May 18, 2011 – 3:05 pm

Patrick Peterson was blunt when asked about wanting to have an NFL “island” as a cornerback, a la Darrelle Revis. “I don’t want an island,” he said. “I want a universe.” Alrighty then. That’s a pretty big area. You have to assume, in such a universe, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would have to be part of the equation.

Just what will the Cardinals have with the DRC/PP combination – not yet forgetting Greg Toler, who won’t have the draft pedigree of the other two but arguably will be the best tackler? (We have yet to see what Peterson brings to the table in terms of tackling, but for now, keep the DRC comments to yourself.)

Because neither has been around, it’s difficult to get a feel for how the duo – or trio, including Toler – will fit together. Here’s what we know: DRC acknowledged last season he didn’t play as well as he could or should have, and he must improve (note I didn’t say “master”) the art of tackling. Toler can play physically, but he remains raw as a cornerback. Peterson has to learn the NFL game period.

The last time the Cards took a cornerback high in the draft, Antrel Rolle certainly entered a different situation. The starting cornerbacks at the time were David Macklin and Robert Tate, and with all due respect to those guys, DRC and Toler are a better duo. The year the Cards took Rolle, they also took Eric Green in the third round, which shows you how much they needed cornerbacks. Rolle was late arriving to camp but was still going to jump into the lineup sooner rather than later; this was Dennis Green as coach. He had no problem thrusting rookies in the lineup. Peterson has Ken Whisenhunt as coach, and if anything, Whisenhunt has shown he’ll slow it down for rookies and playing time if he has a feasible alternative and Toler qualifies.

(Toler, at the least, should be able to be a solid nickel cornerback in a league where three cornerbacks are often needed.)

One thing is guaranteed, and that’s the confidence both DRC and Peterson own. Perfect for their position, and necessary. As has been noted many times, whomever plays cornerback will need a steady pass rush to achieve high-profile status. But if DRC can take his 2009 season and ratchet it up, and Peterson becomes the player everyone keeps saying he should be, high expectations should be the bar the two are able to reach.

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The Grand Cannon, and Warner rehab

Posted by Darren Urban on May 17, 2011 – 3:09 pm

Talking ex-quarterbacks on a Tuesday afternoon, since it doesn’t seem like were close to the time when the Cards can acquire their 2011 version:

Writing about Neil Lomax – and more importantly, seeing “Greg” on the comments refer to The Grand Cannon – reminded me of my brush with Lomax before Lomax ever played a down in Arizona. It was the summer of 1988, the Cardinals had just moved to the Valley, and my best friend Todd had gotten me some part-time work for an outfit called “Events With Tents.” Basically, the company erected giant open tents and then put on whatever event might be held. We’d help with whatever was going on under the tent.

In this case, Lomax was signing autographs for a home builder. So in the heat of June or July – at least, I’m pretty sure it was then, and it was hot – Todd and I drove out to the middle of the desert in Todd’s car that had no air conditioning to hang out with Lomax under a tent. We had lemonade to serve, but I remember very few people showing up over the two-hour deal. So mostly, we had random conversation with Lomax as he asked us about going to college and we talked to him about football. Plus he signed a giant poster of himself for each of us – Lomax standing in uniform on the edge of the state’s greatest natural monument, with three words at the bottom: “The Grand Cannon.”

(A quick aside for those who live locally: Todd and I both lived in Scottsdale and in those days, freeway travel was infrequent because the Valley didn’t have many. Plus there was little reason to go south for us. I remember getting on I-10 toward the development, going south and as we got off the exit where there seemed to be nothing but dirt everywhere, I said to Todd, “Ray Road? Who the heck would ever want to live out here?” I remember that every time I am stuck in traffic at Ray and the freeway.)

— This morning, Kurt Warner tweeted out his big day, noting part of it was rehab – which gave me pause. Rehab? The man hasn’t played NFL football since that day in New Orleans in January, 2010. I know he took a beating all those years, but …

Turns out Kurt said he still has tendinitis from his “Dancing With The Stars” stint. At least he was honest. It’s becoming clear that show can be health-hazardous, for football players and their partners.

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Revisionist History: The end for Lomax

Posted by Darren Urban on May 17, 2011 – 9:48 am

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

There is a fair argument to be made that the course of Cardinals’ history was changed on Nov. 13, 1988. That was the day the Cards beat the New York Giants, 24-17, at Sun Devil Stadium to run their record to 7-4 and reside in first place in the NFC East. It was also the day quarterback Neil Lomax’s career began to spiral to its ugly conclusion.

Some of the details about that season, and Lomax’s end, seem to have gotten cloudy over the years. The big picture was the most painful. Lomax never won another game as a quarterback. The Cards ended up losing their final five games of the season that year and didn’t make the playoffs. And Lomax’s bad left hip ultimately forced his premature retirement.

But it wasn’t as simple as Lomax getting hurt against the Giants and never playing again.

Lomax got hurt in that game against the Giants, but it was a twisted left knee that sent him to the sideline and not his hip. Lomax even threw a touchdown pass – 44 yards to Roy Green – after the play on which he thought he got hurt. At that point, Lomax had 19 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions and the Cards were cruising during their first season in Arizona.

Lomax did come back that season, however. He sat out losses at Houston and at Philadelphia while Cliff Stoudt struggled. He was brought back against a good Giants’ team in New York and was pummeled, completing just 9-of-25 passes for 103 yards and two interceptions in a crushing 44-7 loss. With playoff hopes slipping away, Lomax did OK against the Eagles (29-for-50, 384 yards, one TD, one INT) but the Cards lost at home, 23-17. Then he had a bumpy day against the lowly Packers (15-for-33, 172 yards) in a final loss.

Lomax never played in the regular-season again. He gave preseason work a try in 1989 and went through training camp (pictured below, with Gary Hogeboom to Lomax’s right). But he couldn’t move, and went on injured reserve at the end of training camp. By that point, Lomax was trying to hold out hope he could still play, but it was becoming clear he probably wouldn’t because of the hip. That was crystallized the following January, when Lomax finally retired at age 30. He made two Pro Bowls and could’ve made a third in 1988 had he not hurt his knee. He held most of the Cards’ passing records before Kurt Warner came along.

Hindsight shows Lomax’s hip problem was bad enough that his end was coming regardless, although the way it played out – and the way the Cards’ 1988 season finished up – made for more of a sad narrative.

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Vernon, Dockett and Cards-Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2011 – 4:16 pm

Even with very little going on right now around the league, there apparently still be a little trash talk going on between 49ers tight end Vernon Davis and Cards’ defensive lineman Darnell Dockett. Well, at least from Davis, who mentioned he’d like to take on Dockett in a steel cage match. Of course, it should be noted those kinds of “matches” are for pro wrestling, where everything is staged. As has been mentioned before, Dockett and Davis are good friends, both having grown up in Maryland. Having them war with words is a little like hearing Paul Calvisi and Ron Wolfley verbally attack one another.

Dockett, just about a year ago, even clarified some Twitter bombs he was lobbing both at Davis and the Niners.

Now, the rivalry between Davis and safety Adrian Wilson, that’s another story. Or so I thought. I believed there was some bad blood between the two. That’s always how A-Dub came across. Then I watched Davis praise Wilson for the recent NFL Network stuff naming Wilson one of the top 100 players in the league, and I began to wonder.

Not that Wilson — or Dockett, for that matter — would let up on Davis in a game.

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