A guess at the 53

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2011 – 4:19 pm

Going into the final game, there are, according to coach Ken Whisenhunt, still roster spots to be won. So to make a guesstimate at the final 53 before the final preseason game leaves a big opening to make a mistake. Injuries can change equations too. But this is what we do — speculate. Realistically, a good chunk of the roster is long set. The battles not left open by injury are usually down to — at most — the final six or seven spots. Frequently less.

(And that’s from an outside perspective. Internally, I am guessing by now the list is even shorter).

Things like the practice squad come into play — if you like two guys equally, maybe one can be on the practice squad and the other on the roster, and both stick around. Of course, anyone on the practice squad has to be exposed to the rest of the league, so you don’t know who might snap someone up. Even once the roster gets to 53, of course, it could immediately change if, say, the Cards grab a player (running back) who has been released elsewhere.(On this list, I am not putting a fourth running back in, even though I think it’s probable).

So, with all those caveats, here’s is my opinion on how it could shake out:

QB — (3) Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Rich Bartel. Brodie Croyle just was here too late to make an impact.

RB — (3) Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Alfonso Smith. Smith plays well on special teams. I think he’d stick around even if the Cards sign a fourth running back, which I think is a real possibility. And then the Cards would have to find a cut from elsewhere on the roster.

FB – (1) Anthony Sherman. Reagan Maui’a has had a good camp, but Sherman is a draft pick, he has impacted special teams and I think he has the right upside. You just can’t keep two fullbacks on the roster.

TE – (4) Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler, Jim Dray. It’s a tough call between Dray and Stephen Spach. Dray did some good things on special teams and his youth may give him the edge. Would I be shocked if Spach stayed? No.

WR – (6) Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet, Stephen Williams, Chansi Stuckey, DeMarco Sampson. I think Sampson has done enough to make the team, and Isaiah Williams could be on the practice squad.

OL – (8) Levi Brown, Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Rex Hadnot, Brandon Keith, Deuce Lutui, Jeremy Bridges, Ben Claxton. It’s possible they could keep an extra swingman like Pork Chop Womack, but usually the Cards have just seven linemen active on game days, and since Bridges can play both guard and tackle, they should be set there.

DL – (7) Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, Vonnie Holliday, Nick Eason, David Carter, Kenny Iwebema. Iwebema is the man on the fringe, but he can play special teams. The Cards kept seven at this spot last year too. It could be a spot that gets trimmed for another position.

LB – (8) Joey Porter, Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington, Clark Haggans, Stewart Bradley, O’Brien Schofield, Sam Acho, Reggie Walker. I could easily see rookie Quan Sturdivant making it over Walker. But they may try to get the raw Sturdivant to the practice squad.

CB – (5) A.J. Jefferson, Patrick Peterson, Richard Marshall, Michael Adams, Marshay Green. Green had a rough end to the Chargers’ game, but the season-ending injury to Greg Toler might work to his benefit. Not sure there has been enough time for Fred Bennett to prove himself. This could be another battle where the performances against the Broncos resonates. The Cards could also search the waiver wire. In the past, the Cards have had only nine DBs, but injuries may force them to go to 10.

S – (5) Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, Rashad Johnson, Hamza Abdullah, Matt Ware. With the uncertainty around Wilson’s biceps injury, keeping an extra safety — Ware, in this case — sounds prudent.

Special teams – (3) LS Mike Leach, K Jay Feely, P Ben Graham. After the way Graham punted last week, I think he’ll hold off Dave Zastudil. It’ll be interesting to see who punts Thursday night. That might be one of the spots that could still be decided.

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Wednesday before the Broncos

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2011 – 10:08 am

This version of “before the” will be a little different, much like the last game of the preseason normally is for teams. It doesn’t make much sense to break down the main parts of the Cards, since their biggest chore this game is to avoid injuries. There have been a lot of people asking why the starters will play much at all, after coach Ken Whisenhunt said yesterday the starters might actually play a little longer than in a normal, non-locked-out year. There is a fine line to walk. The reality is, because these guys didn’t get a chance to rep anything in the offseason, this is the only real time to do it. Is it a risk leaving the starters out a little longer? Sure. But health doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t playing well enough to win, and the Cards are still trying to get to the level they feel is important.

— It will be interesting to see how the roster shakes out. The media availability was just sent out, and Whisenhunt will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Friday with nothing Saturday or Sunday. I expect the Cards to announce their roster at that point. Do they keep two fullbacks? How many defensive backs do they keep? Those are among the many questions (and I will have my opinion how it will shake out later today on the blog). Whiz did say there is a guy or two who always seem to earn a job with the performance in the final preseason game.

— I hope we get to see running back Alfonso Smith carry the ball in this game. In my opinion, when cuts from the rest of the league come down, the Cards will be looking at running back first, then cornerback. And as I have said many times, it’s no lock that they get someone at either spot. Smith can impact his future tomorrow night.

— Also wondering if the Cards will feel the need to keep an extra DB given the uncertainty with safety Adrian Wilson. I believe Wilson will play this season. That’s not the issue. But if there is a concern playing could end up getting him hurt again, the Cards may want an extra body practicing the whole time in case he is needed to step in.

— The game is a sellout, the 55th straight time the Cards have sold out University of Phoenix Stadium (out of 55 tries). It will be televised locally on ABC-15 (and will be on radio at Arizona Sports 620 AM and KTAR 92.3 FM).

— The Cards are taking part in a backpack drive again this year, collecting new or gently used backpacks in exchange for a Cardinals and Albertson’s co-branded backpack. The program benefits the “Hope Endures” organization. Backpacks can be dropped off at UoP Stadium gates before the Broncos game.

On to the Broncos. Like I said, I’ll take a guess at the roster later.

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Some playing time for starters in the 4th

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2011 – 10:55 am

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said, in the final presser before the fourth preseason game (and in the final presser  before final cuts) that he wants to get his starters at least some playing time. It could even be more than a “normal” fourth game. But how much is TBD.

“I want them to get a little bit of work just because they haven’t played together much,” Whisenhunt said. “It’ll be more of a feel thing. I don’t think we will have a set number of plays.”

Whiz did say, because of the lockout and the lack of an offseason, he could play different guys “a little bit longer.” He does want to make sure no key guys get hurt. As for the rest of the roster, Whiz turned to a fellow coach for what exactly he was looking for from the rest of the roster.

“I heard something (Patriots) coach (Bill) Belichick said,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s exactly right. That’s ‘More information.’ We have a number of spots players are competing for, and last week, a lot of guys didn’t get a number of reps because we were trying to get the first team reps and give them a shot to make the team.”

Whisenhunt only ruled out safety Adrian Wilson (biceps) from playing, although I don’t expect cornerback Michael Adams (knee) out there either. The other key guys banged up — QB John Skelton (ankle), WR DeMarco Sampson (hamstring), RB Alfonso Smith (hamstring) and tight end Rob Housler (groin) — are wait and see. Smith and Housler got in some work Tuesday, and both of them could definitely use the work, especially Smith, who is trying to prove he can be the third running back.

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An eye open, then adding a CB

Posted by Darren Urban on August 29, 2011 – 1:54 pm

The loss of cornerback Greg Toler to a knee injury is a blow, and it’s a tough coincidence that the two good players the Cards dealt in trades — Tim Hightower and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie — happen to play the positions where the two season-ending injuries occurred with Toler and Ryan Williams. In the meantime, coach Ken Whisenhunt continued to say the same thing: The Cards will keep an eye on who is available, but in neither case are they definitely going to add someone.

At cornerback they still have A.J. Jefferson, Patrick Peterson and Richard Marshall to man the top three spots. At running back, they are still intrigued by Alfonso Smith (although he unfortunately is dealing with a hamstring problem right now, which kept him from running the ball against San Diego the other night).

There will be players who come available not this week but next weekend that can change the equation.

UPDATE: The Cardinals did add a cornerback Monday afternoon, signing Fred Bennett while waiving-injured LB Brandon Sharpe (hamstring). Bennett, a 2007 fourth-round pick of Houston, actually started 17 times in 40 games for the Texans from 2007-09. He spent time with San Diego and Cincinnati last season, and was just released by the Bengals this weekend. He has five career interceptions.

“We are always looking to get our team better,” Whisenhunt said. “It may be this week, it may be after this week, we will look and see. It’s got to be the right fit for us. You get a sense in training camp you have all these numbers that you don’t have in the regular season. We don’t have six corners or five corners or five running backs on the regular roster. We will look and see what’s available.”

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Toler out for season; Komar among cuts

Posted by Darren Urban on August 29, 2011 – 10:55 am

Cornerback Greg Toler was “praying” for a light ACL sprain when he went in to have an MRI of his left knee Sunday. His prayers weren’t answered. Toler — who tore his ACL on a non-contact play Saturday against the Chargers — was placed on injured reserve Monday, ending his season. The Toler move was one of 10 the Cards made to reduce the roster to the required 80 heading into the final week of the preseason. It’s a painful one too, since Toler was starting. It’s a good thing A.J. Jefferson has been playing so well, and it puts rookie Patrick Peterson — and veteran Richard Marshall — squarely in the spotlight as the Cards’ top three corners.

As expected, rookie running back Ryan Williams was also put on injured reserve. Wide receiver Max Komar (knee) and undrafted rookie safety Tommy Irvin (foot) were waived-injured. With the Komar situation, that takes one potential out of the mix as the Cards try to find six wideouts to keep.

Six other players were released: veterans FB Charles Ali and LB Curtis Gatewood, along with undrafted rookies WR Daiveun Curry-Chapman, LB Duke Lemmens, T Eric Mensik and T Jason Speredon.

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Chargers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2011 – 1:41 am

You know what I thought of when I watched Kevin Kolb launch one down the field and connect perfectly with Larry Fitzgerald for that 80-yard touchdown bomb Saturday night? Not the Super Bowl catch (comon — no matter how pretty, the stakes were so dramatically different. There weren’t stakes in this game). Not even the one-time Kurt Warner-to-Fitz combo — Kurt liked to spread it around so much.

No, what I thought of was this entire last month. If we have learned anything about Kolb since he arrived it’s that he understands that a) Fitz likes the ball; b) Fitz can get the ball most of the time if it is anywhere close; and c) good things tend to happen when Fitz has the ball. We will see what happens when teams start gameplanning more to defend Fitz, but it’s hard to think that, assuming both Kolb and Fitz are healthy, Fitz is going to have anything but a monster year statistically.

Offensively, the Cards showed some pop. Beanie Wells is running as well as he did late in his rookie season. That’s a good thing, because that’s when I thought he was about to be a 1,200-yard back. The line is giving Kolb some protection. There’s a long way to go, but it’s easy to see how this team could score some points when it finally clicks — because at this point, they say they are not.

“I know we had some incompletions early, but a few of them were miscommunications,” Kolb said. “That’s going to happen … The biggest thing is starting early and then when we get in that red zone, making it count. That’s still an issue of ours going forward.”

— All this concern about stretching the field. Fitzgerald looked pretty fast on that 80-yard catch and then No. 2 Andre Roberts split the seam pretty well on that 34-yard reverse for a touchdown (shown below). “I want people to respect my speed,” Roberts said with a grin. “They call me slow. Maybe plays like that will help it out a little bit.”

— Funny how people were wondering about Patrick Peterson and his lack of impact and then he gets a Pick-6. Make no mistake, he’s a work-in-progress. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Chargers were kind of picking on him later in the half, Peterson insisted “it wasn’t pick-on-Peterson night.” Whatever the case, he is still learning. He insists he isn’t frustrated with how he is being handled. I’ll say this: He sure sounds like he has the perfect attitude. At some point — sooner rather than later — he is going to be a star. I really believe that.

— The Cards may need him sooner, depending on how bad the sprain is of starter Greg Toler. That could hurt in the short-term, and just ratchets up the importance of how A.J. Jefferson has played.

— I still think Dan Williams will be the starting nose tackle. But rookie David Carter is going to push for that job. Both have to play anyway. Whiz said Carter got cut blocked on Ryan Mathews’ 48-yard run and he has to find a way to plug the middle. But overall Carter is making a strong push. At this rate, he will be the pleasant surprise of camp.

— Speaking of making pushes, Rich Bartel is pushing John Skelton as backup QB. Bartel talked the other day about seizing opportunity. Then he completes 8-of-10 passes and tosses a TD. Save for that one bad INT in Green Bay, he seems to have made every other decision the right way this preseason.

— Kolb threw a block on Roberts’ run. I’m not sure that’s a smart thing. The coaches don’t think so, apparently. “My job is what I call ‘Push and pester,’ ” Kolb said. “I’m just trying to get in the way of somebody.” Just, please, stay safe when doing it.

— Peterson looked good on a punt return. Whiz said PP was back there because Roberts has a sore thumb. The way Peterson runs them back, it may be hard to not have him back there, even if Roberts’ thumb is golden.

— Ben Graham was the only Card to punt. He sure seemed to respond well to the signing of Dave Zastudil. Graham averaged 41.3 yards on four punts, dropping three inside the San Diego 20 and netting 48 yards on his other kick. He’s not going anywhere if he performs like that.

— Would’ve liked to see running back Alfonso Smith. Hamstring soreness kept him out. I’ll be curious to know if he can play in the fourth game at all.

OK, it’s late — very late — and I’m tired. Time to wrap this up. Short week before the Broncos come in Thursday. First cuts — from 90 to 80 — have to be done by Tuesday. I’d expect Monday. Then the final cut to 53 comes next weekend sometime. It will be interesting.

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Housler, Sampson sitting vs. San Diego

Posted by Darren Urban on August 27, 2011 – 5:35 pm

Tight end Rob Housler (groin) and wide receiver DeMarco Sampson (hamstring), a pair of rookies who have impressed early, will not play tonight in the third preseason game against San Diego. Both got hurt during practice this past week. Quarterback John Skelton (ankle) also is sitting out, setting the stage for Rich Bartel to be the backup and possible playing time for newcomer Brodie Croyle.

Linebacker Brandon Sharpe (hamstring), safety Adrian Wilson (biceps) and cornerback Michael Adams (knee) are also sitting out for the Cards.

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Friday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2011 – 2:39 pm

The Cardinals finally get to play a home game. And it’s the third game of the preseason, the one where starters play the most and — mostly — it’s the best way to judge a team. It’s still a preseason game, of course. No gameplanning, nothing set up. The Cards continue to test out new parts of the offense and defense. Still, quarterback Kevin Kolb knows the impact that this game can have. “The biggest thing, this is the one, when you look at the scores, this is the one where you measure everyone up,” Kolb said. “And we want to measure well.”

(I will admit, when Kolb said that the other day, I desperately wanted to say, “So you’re saying the third game of the preseason isn’t bu…?” Well, you know.)

— Halfway through the preseason, and with the end of the time in training camp, the Cards are getting more comfortable with new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s defense. But again, it’ll be a work in progress.

“We’ve got the grit of it,” safety Kerry Rhodes said. “We know what we are going to run, we can go and play a game. We’ve got the base stuff, and some of the exotic stuff. But we don’t have everything in. We’re just trying to do that, like a cram session. Cram for the test, and hopefully that first test against Carolina, we pass with flying colors.”

— Kolb talked about the “hiccups” in the offense. They probably won’t be ironed out just this week. It would be nice to see Kolb in control of the offense during a touchdown drive or two. He joked that he has been saving them for his first game at University of Phoenix Stadium, even “six or seven of them.” One or two would suffice against the Chargers.

— Curious to see, against a really good passing offense for a second straight week, how the cornerbacks hold up. Rookie Patrick Peterson got a taste of a high-profile receiver last week, getting beat by Greg Jennings for a touchdown. I’m also starting to think under-the-radar A.J. Jefferson is going to be a starter when the season begins, so this is another good test for him.

— Alfonso Smith wanted his shot. With Ryan Williams down, I’d think the Cards will be careful with Beanie Wells. And cuts are going to come quickly over the next week or so. As has been said many times, the Cards will look at all the running backs available after the league-wide cuts. There could be some intriguing names out there, especially after the final cuts following the fourth preseason game. In the meantime, Smith — who shows promise — will get his shot.

— So too will QB Rich Bartel. Story on him on the homepage right here.

— This is another big game for OLB O’Brien Schofield. He played so well last week, but coach Ken Whisenhunt wants consistency. He’s a chance to show that.

— I know it’s just a preseason game, but I am looking forward to this one. Going back to the Red-White practice, where 13,000 people showed up, there has been a resurgence in enthusiasm. Some is natural, with a new season. But injected with the new players arriving, headlined by Kolb, and the hope after the lockout finally ended, there is a new vibe with this team. We’ll see how it plays out in front of the home crowd.

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And that’s all she wrote

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2011 – 11:10 am

Another training camp over.

I know the weather here is much nicer than down in the Valley right now, but I know I am ready to go home and you know all the players and coaches are too. Time to get back into a normal routine. Coach Ken Whisenhunt wouldn’t rule out anyone for Saturday’s game save for cornerback Michael Adams (knee), although he acknowledged quarterback John Skelton (ankle) was unlikely to go (and Adrian Wilson, of course, won’t be out there.) There are some question marks. Rookie receiver DeMarco Sampson tweaked his hamstring Wednesday and sat out Thursday. Tight end Rob Housler (groin) is getting better but he missed a second straight day.

Whiz said the last practice was “better than I expected.” No short-timers disease.

— It seemed like cornerback Patrick Peterson had a pretty good practice today. That’s always a good sign. If he can make an early impact, that would aid this defense so much.

— The players I’ll remember most from this camp? I thought rookie NT David Carter and Sampson both performed better than expected. Kevin Kolb is a work-in-progress, but he’s shown plenty to make this year’s quarterback situation so much more enjoyable to unfold. Backup Rich Bartel has impressed me too. And of course, Larry Fitzgerald continues to wow every day.

— Whisenhunt isn’t concerned about going to practice in the heat. “You know what? We’ve faced heat every year. It’s hot. We know that. We will do what we can to make it work.” Whisenhunt talked about having the giant fans and tents at the facility as usual and “potentially” using ASU’s practice dome.

OK, that’s enough. See ya, Flagstaff.

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Horton’s place will be upstairs

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2011 – 6:50 am

In the first game of the preseason, defensive coordinator Ray Horton was captured by TV cameras at his spot up in the coaches box high above the field. For fans used to seeing the past two defensive coordinators — Clancy Pendergast and Bill Davis — on the field, it was jarring. Then, last weekend, Horton was down on the field in Green Bay.

Turns out he was test-driving both spots. But Horton, who was always upstairs in Pittsburgh when he was defensive backs coach, will be sticking with his upstairs perch going forward.

“When you are up there you can evaluate everything yourself,” Horton said. “I just wanted to explore all avenues, and make sure there wasn’t a better way to do something.”

In the end, it comes down to comfort with a coordinator. Offensive coordinator Mike Miller stays upstairs, and he has always been there, even when he was wide receivers coach. Former offensive coordinator Todd Haley was on the field when he was with the Cardinals.

“For me, I can see everything,” Horton said. “I can see the personnel coming in, I can see the play develop. I never have to ask anybody what happened. People say, ‘Well, you can look in the player’s eyes.’ I don’t need to look in their eyes. I know my players. The other (assistant) coaches can get what I want. Whether it is overrated or underrated, I don’t know. I want to know what happened. I am that kind of guy. I don’t want to ask, ‘Hey, what happened?’ ”

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