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Going forward at QB, and other lunch notes

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2011 – 12:28 pm

The Cardinals wanted Brodie Croyle at quarterback because he did come from Todd Haley’s system, and there are similarities with that and what the Cards run. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Cards waived-injured Max Hall because it was the only way they could have any chance of bringing Hall back this season. They can injury settle with Hall and then re-sign him down the road. Will it happen/be necessary? Well, if there is an injury, I could see wanting to turn back to Hall. Otherwise, I’m not sure it would happen.

As for Croyle, with two games in five days (the Cards play Saturday and again Thursday), they need someone who didn’t come in completely cold. It’s not like they are bringing him in just because of that, Whisenhunt said, but it was a major factor. “We did have good grades on him coming out,” Whiz said.

Croyle (pictured below at his first practice this morning) doesn’t know what to expect. “I will come in and hopefully play well and we will see what happens,” Croyle said, adding that he hopes to see some time against the Chargers Saturday. “I’d like to but we will see. It wouldn’t be the ideal situation, but you play when you can. I’ll take reps when I can get them.”

Starting quarterback Kevin Kolb was asked about seeing the Chargers this weekend and then the Panthers — who are led by new head coach and former San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera — opening weekend, and whether he can glean anything from it. Kolb actually weaved in the arrival of Croyle, and the Haley tie. “We said to Brodie, ‘Is this pretty similar?’ And he’s like, ‘Ehhh …’ ” Kolb said. “Coaches want to change their stuff. You can’t get caught up thinking you’ll be seeing the same things.”

– Whisenhunt said it was “competition” for incumbent punter Ben Graham as to why the Cards signed veteran Dave Zastudil. Punting, Whisenhunt said, was one of many areas that needed to be improved from 2010. In 2009, Graham was fantastic, but the team played to his strengths — the offense gained so many yards they were often near or beyond the 50, able to let Graham pin teams deep. When the offense struggles and Graham is forced to kick deep, he can drive it long, but the hang time allows for bigger returns.

– Kolb avoided a high-speed accident Tuesday night — he swerved on his Segway so he didn’t hit a skunk. That would have been a disaster. Whisenhunt said he’s dodged a few skunks in camp himself.

– Someone asked Kolb if he would get butterflies before his first home game. He said he gets butterflies before practice. “I take this game serious,” he said, and it was hard not to flash back to the Cardinals quarterback of last season. “I get amped up and ready to go, practice, preseason whatever it is,” Kolb added.

– Kolb said he was going to play into the third quarter. Whisenhunt would not commit to that, but did say it was a possibility. Playing into the third would allow Kolb to come out and play after halftime, which is always good for the starter to go through. Kolb joked that that was a big reason to look forward to this game, learning stuff like that. He doesn’t even know where the stadium is yet.

– S Adrian Wilson will not be pushed to come back. If anything, the Cards will be conservative with him. But it was good to get him back on the field, Whisenhunt said. “The common phrase for defensive players is ‘Getting their eyes right,’ ” Whiz said. “Getting in there with the speed of the game and in the right position. You can stand back and watch, but it is different when things are full-speed and you’re the one on the hook.”

– Tight end Stephen Spach (calf) and quarterback John Skelton (ankle) are making “good progress.” What that means practice-wise or game-wise is TBD.


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Cards waive Hall, add Croyle and veteran punter

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2011 – 8:41 am

The debate over whether Max Hall could make it back to the Cardinals’ roster is over for this year. After suffering a subluxed left shoulder in practice Monday, Hall was waived-injured Wednesday. If Hall clears waivers, he ends up on injured reserve.

The Cardinals did end up signing veteran quarterback Brodie Croyle to fill the third quarterback spot, with John Skelton still sidelined with a right ankle sprain. They also signed veteran punter Dave Zastudil to battle Ben Graham. The other move to make roster room was to release undrafted rookie free agent tackle Jake Vermiglio.

Zastudil kicked for the Ravens and Browns from 2002-2009, missing all of last season with — coincidentally, given the events with running back Ryan Williams — a torn patella tendon in his plant leg. Zastudil has averaged 42.7 yards a punt in his career.

As for Croyle, I wouldn’t expect him to be able to beat out Rich Bartel or Skelton. He’ll be around for the balance of camp. Maybe he can show something in the final two weeks, but it will be difficult.


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Adrian Wilson — in No. 24 — returns to practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2011 – 5:50 pm

He was limited and still must be wary of setbacks. But safety Adrian Wilson, just a few weeks since tearing a biceps at the Red-White practice, was back on the field Tuesday.

He wore his pads and helmet and while he didn’t do everything — and while there was no tackling anyway, for anyone — he worked some 7-on-7 and 9-on-7 and even a little bit of 11-on-11 early in the workout.

“It felt good to be back out,” Wilson said. “Still getting some rust out. We’ll see where I am at (in) September. Everything is on the up and up.”

(Here is video of Wilson’s return).

If Wilson was serious about returning for the opener, and of course he is, he needed to start getting some work. Today was the perfect opportunity, knowing he could run and get in the right positions (nothing wrong with his legs) and start practicing with his teammates and letting his teammates get a feel for him again.

“Just for me mentally and for my guys as well, training camp is such a grind and anytime you have an injury it takes a toll mentally,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to make sure I was doing the things I needed to do to get back.”

He said he was “pushing” to return for the Carolina game Sept. 11, the season opener. “Hopefully, that’s the day,” Wilson said. “We’ll see. It’s all up to the Coach, all up to the medical staff.”

Wilson said he wasn’t the only one excited to have him back out, but that his teammates got a boost. Rehab will continue. He said he didn’t know what the timetable should have been to get to this point and won’t say he is ahead of a rehab curve (although it sure feels that way, doesn’t it?).

Perhaps the strangest part of the day wasn’t Wilson’s return but his jersey. I don’t remember the last time he didn’t wear No. 2 (personal motivation, trying to become the No. 1 safety in the NFL) or No. 9 (his high school number). But there he was in his game number: 24. Significance? Not really.

“I didn’t even realize that was me,” Wilson deadpanned. “I think that was the only jersey in my locker. I think they took my other jersey (9) because I got hurt in it. There’s a lot of superstition going on around here.”


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With QBs hurting, Cards going after help UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2011 – 11:07 am

Quarterback John Skelton sprained his ankle in the Green Bay game and missed practice yesterday, while Max Hall had to come out after getting tripped up on a scramble and landing on his left shoulder. Down to two healthy QBs in Kevin Kolb and Rich Bartel, it’s no surprise to see Kent Somers’ Tweet that the Cards will sign former Chiefs QB Brodie Croyle.

– UPDATE: Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Hall has a subluxed left shoulder, the same injury — and same shoulder — that sidelined Hall at the end of last season. It’s a type of slight dislocation. The Cards will have to get someone, but they are “exploring options.” Whisenhunt said he couldn’t say if the replacement would be Croyle. The good news is that if the shoulder problem is chronic — and again, it’s the same shoulder as last year — Hall may only need a few days to recover depending on the pain tolerance. Whiz said Hall will  be further evaluated to find out his return timetable. Skelton looks like he has a high-ankle sprain, so it seems like it will be tough for him to play Saturday.

Wide receiver Early Doucet, by the way, is the emergency quarterback.

At this point, nothing is official. I don’t know what the extent of Hall’s injury is right now. But for those asking, I’d still expect Bartel and Skelton to back up Kolb this season, unless Croyle — or whomever the Cards might sign — is fantastic. The other two guys have been in the system, a new quarterback is playing heavy catch-up, and the only reason he would be here is because of injuries and not because they were looking to add a QB. Croyle could be an option because he played in Todd Haley’s system, which is similar to Whisenhunt’s, for obvious reasons.

Croyle has played in 18 games over five NFL seasons, throwing eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He was 8-for-19 for 38 yards in two appearances for the Chiefs last season.


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Toler’s difficult daily lessons

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2011 – 8:16 am

Greg Toler would like to be a starting cornerback for the Cardinals. He’s certainly not going to turn down the chance to work with the first unit. But that also means that much of the time in practice, he’s covering Larry Fitzgerald. That job can be hard.

Fitzgerald has always been good in practice but his turns on the Flagstaff fields this year have made him look particularly sharp. Spectacular, even. Often, Toler is the victim. Monday afternoon was a great example. On one deep pattern, Toler was in perfect position. But Fitzgerald — excellently using the strength from his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame — squeezed the route and basically boxed Toler out on the run while hauling in the Kevin Kolb pass over his head on the run.

Later, Toler cut in front to get his hand on a ball thrown as Fitzgerald cut across the middle, about 12 yards downfield. It looked like a pass breakup — except Fitzgerald kept hand-fighting in the play, and a moment after some chaos and a bobbling ball, Fitzgerald someone plucked it out of the air and took off downfield, leaving Toler defeated again.

“I look at it like if I am able to catch passes on him every single day and he knows Fitz is doing it, I am going to give him the best look,” Fitzgerald said. “I am trying to get him ready to play, and he is doing the same thing for me. I had the same thing with DRC. That’s what it is all about. It’s not about crushing anyone’s spirit. He gets me sometimes, I get him sometimes, but we are teammates. If he breaks up a pass, I tell him, ‘Greg, that’s a hell of a play.’ If I get one, he’ll say, ‘Fitz, that’s a nice catch.’ It’s about building the team.”

Toler acknowledged battling Fitzgerald isn’t easy, but his relationship with Fitz has impacted him in multiple ways.

“Before every game, he’ll come up to me and say, ‘G, just take it one day at a time,’ ” Toler said. “Hearing that from him … I can honestly say, looking at other teams’ receivers sometimes, not taking anything from their game, I’m like, ‘You’re not number 11.’ He settles me down before the game with any butterflies.”

That’s the ultimate advantage for Toler. Rarely if at all will he take on a receiver in a game as good as the guy he must cover every other day of the week. So Toler will continue to take his lumps and try to improve. If nothing else, he gets practice on one of the most important parts of being a cornerback — quickly forgetting the previous play when it goes against you.

“It’s always for the next play,” Toler said. “Going against him, he is so technique-sound, I know he studies DBs to a ‘T.’ He knows when to lean on you, he knows when to give you the ‘high hat,’ because he knows what DBs are looking for. That’s just him being a great player. And I get to compete every day with him.”

 


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Ramifications, short- and long-term, of Fitz’s deal

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2011 – 1:25 pm

The immediate impact of Larry Fitzgerald’s new contract is obvious. He won’t be going anywhere, and the tension around that situation is wiped out going into the season. That’s certainly true for the organization as a whole and for the fan base. But what about the team itself? Fitz was going to play in Arizona this season, regardless. So does this change anything?

“Maybe getting Larry to pay for their dinners, it might,” coach Ken Whisenhunt cracked.

But Whiz did get serious. “Larry has been very generous with his guys,” he said, noting Fitzgerald organized a team night out at Buffalo Wild Wings in Flagstaff earlier in camp. “Larry gets it, and that’s one of the reasons it was so important we got the deal done with him. He’s been a tremendous leader, he’s grown a lot in what we want him to do. It wasn’t always easy, because understanding the burden that comes on you as a great player, it’s not something that’s natural, especially someone who shies from the spotlight like Larry.

“When you recognize what a tremendous player he is and the accomplishments he has had over the last few years, it’s goes a long way that our team and (president) Michael Bidwill recognize that and are willing to do those deals.”

Whisenhunt further praised Bidwill, not only for the free-agent moves/trades of the offseason (Face it, Fitz was probably going to test the market if the Cards had not upgraded the roster) but also for the rapid way Fitz’s new contract was completed.

(UPDATE: Here is an awesome breakdown by Andrew Brandt of not only this Fitz contract, but all three Fitz contracts).

“There was mention we were going to get Larry done, we were motivated to do that before the season starts,” Whisenhunt said. “Say what you want to say, but the deal is done. Larry is a great player, there are a lot of teams that would have liked an opportunity at him, and they won’t get it because ownership stepped up.”

The leadership aspect isn’t a small one. If you would have asked me when Fitz showed up in 2004 if he’d ever be a big leader, I’d have said no. Heck, he would have too. He wanted no part of that at the time. Things change. So too has Fitz. I can see that, and so can everyone else. We will see what the actual numbers crunch out to when Fitz’s contract leaks out (and it always does) but the Cards aren’t paying $15 million a year or whatever it is just for 95 catches and 1,200 yards. They are paying for the guy who may be among the top five recognizable faces — player-wise — in the NFL. They are paying for his profile and his good-guy image, perfect as the face of a franchise.

They are paying for his connections. We joke about Fitz having worked out with almost every guy the Cards have signed, and it’s an exaggeration, but he does know everyone. That, Whisenhunt acknowledged (plus the Cards’ willingness to pay for the right guys), can help in free agency down the road when trying to recruit players.

Plus there is the knowledge he will be here long-term (just like quarterback Kevin Kolb) and that provides some stability. Did the Cards overpay? Let’s see where wide receiver contracts go in the next couple of years before that’s judged. Besides, the Cards are getting more than just a receiver with Fitz. They needed to keep him around for a bunch of reasons.

“If anyone deserves that, it’s him,” quarterback Kevin Kolb said. “There is no doubt he is our leader.”


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Iwebema returns as does RB Powell

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2011 – 1:09 pm

The Cardinals have brought back a familiar face, re-signing defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema Monday. Iwebema has been sitting on the sideline since his contract ran out this offseason. Iwebema blew out his knee in November and had been rehabbing. Iwebema said he will begin being limited in practice — special teams and the like — but rehab has gone well. He added that his playing weight is back to normal, in the 280-pound range.

The Cardinals are also bringing back running back William Powell, who was with the team earlier in camp. He’s the body everyone was expecting when Ryan Williams went down; I think the Cards will continue to look at their running back options going forward and even through the rest of the NFL’s final cuts. Finally, the Cards are signing cornerback Thad Turner, who was on the Patriots’ practice squad last season.

The Cards already had a spot open on the 90-man roster. So to make room, the team released cornerback Desia Dunn — who was victimized by a 97-yard touchdown pass in Green Bay — and punter Derek Epperson.

– Whisenhunt said he wasn’t sure if QB John Skelton (ankle sprain) will practice this afternoon.


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Fitzgerald deal gets done

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2011 – 6:14 pm

Nothing official — unless you want to take the fact there is a press conference in a short bit featuring team president Michael Bidwill and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, which is a huge tell — but Fitz has got his extension. Reports have it as an eight-year contract with $50 million guaranteed and worth as much as $120 million (although that’s the agent talking, so there is always the case of waiting to see the actual deal).

That length means that Fitz probably isn’t going anywhere, but again, we need to see details. If the last three years are backloaded heavily, maybe that can change. Obviously, though, Fitzgerald’s stated desire to stay in Arizona was true — just like he was saying.

Much more later, and yes, we plan to stream this live on azcardinals.com right on this link. Press conference is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Az time.

(And here’s the story link).


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Whiz delivers expected R. Williams news

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2011 – 1:40 pm

There were no miracles. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said that running back Ryan Williams does indeed have a ruptured patellar tendon after further examination, and he is out for the season. Surgery should come in the next few days, and they hope to have him back for training camp in 2012. They will add a running back, although Whisenhunt isn’t sure to what level — he could just be a camp body taking needed extra camp reps/preseason plays, or it could be someone more. Any vet has to be researched, Whisenhunt said. Chemistry is a big deal, and the newcomer has to know his role.

Current fourth-stringer Alfonso Smith is a “viable candidate” Whisenhunt said.


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Packers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 19, 2011 – 11:43 pm

It’s very late and the trip to the airport comes very early. So we will make this aftermath brief. At least, that’s the plan as I start.

–What can you really say about the injury to running back Ryan Williams? Horrible. I’ve written it and everyone has said it: There was definitely excitement watching this kid in practice. I really wanted to see him and what he could bring to the table. Now, barring a miracle, there is going to be a long rehab process and a lot of questions about the future.

“We were all excited about him and we saw the stuff he had done in the game and the stuff he had done in practice and the kind of kid he is,” quarterback Kevin Kolb said. “It is a little bit frustrating as an athlete. It doesn’t matter whether he was in green-and-yellow or our colors.”

– What next at running back. Well, the Cards will look at players, and, at least body-wise, I won’t be shocked to see them sign someone. But I like what little I have seen from fourth-stringer Alfonso Smith — the man is very fast — and with the success of so many undrafted running backs, he may just get a shot to team up with Beanie and the Hyphen. If they don’t want to go that route, I could see them waiting until teams make final cuts and see who is out there. I don’t see them chasing some old “name.”

– Beanie really, really has to stay healthy now.

– Somehow, it’s funny to see this tweet from cornerback Patrick Peterson, knowing it is coming from 30,000 feet in the air on the flight home: “The back shoulder fade is a MOTHER!!!!” Welcome to the NFL, PP. A 20-yard score from Rodgers-to-Jennings. You may be the best player coming out in the 2011 draft, but you are still a rookie, and that duo has burned so many cornerbacks already in the league. You live, you learn.

– OK, not a surprise, but seriously, are you kidding me?

– Quarterback Rich Bartel should have led the Cards to a chance to tie the game late. His end-zone interception was forced, which obviously he knew. Worse, he had rookie wideout DeMarco Sampson wide open over the middle when that play began to break down. Take your six or seven yards and live to fight another day.

– It got lost with a few false starts, but I think the offensive line has held up pretty well in pass protection for Kolb and created some room for Beanie (who ran over a couple people tonight too). You can’t have the penalties period. But decent-with-penalties, for the second game of the preseason, is better than the alternative.

– Wide receiver Stephen Williams made a nice touchdown catch. But he also dropped a couple he needs to make, and he probably could have blocked a little better. These are the things that make a difference when you are trying to decide who makes the roster.

– Darnell Dockett played really well. Don’t know if it was the fact it was the Pack or not, but he was a beast.

That’s enough for now. Someone asked me yesterday what I was looking for in this game. I wanted a steady Kolb — he was OK, although he missed a couple of throws. I wanted the pass rush to pop — and I think it did.  And I wanted no injuries.

Damn.


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