Niners know things change

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2012 – 10:02 am

The phrase “it’s a business” is one used often in NFL circles. Rosters change every year. It’s impossible — and not smart, in many ways — to keep everything the same, even after a successful season. That’s where 49ers general manager Trent Baalke was coming from today when talking the chance to re-sign cornerback Carlos Rogers, who is a free agent after a very good season in his one year in San Francisco.

“You can’t have everybody back,” Baalke said. “But one thing you can’t overstate enough is the locker room. That’s what gets you to 13-3.”

The moving parts on all teams are what dictate the following year, which is why it’s a little foolish when teams’ schedules are rated via the previous years’ records. When you are chasing a team, like the Cards are the 49ers, those changes are to be noted. The 49ers are going to have to find a way to bounce back in 2012 too; Baalke said he didn’t even watch the Super Bowl after the Niners lost the NFC Championship because he and the scouts had a meeting that day. Yes, that’s an odd time to have a meeting for an NFL team, but it was intentional.

Speaking of the Cards, GM Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt will be speaking in a bit. Updates to come.

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Time for Indy and the Combine

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2012 – 4:38 pm

I, along with a handful of other Cards’ people like head coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistants Russ Grimm, Mike Miller, Freddie Kitchens, Kevin Spencer and John Lott, made it to Indianapolis today for the annual Scouting combine. I’ll be here until Sunday, bringing you the stories around the Cards. That begins tomorrow when Whiz and general manager Rod Graves address the media gathered here. Not sure anything of major consequence will come out of it; because free agency is pushed back, there is still plenty of post-combine time for things to happen before free agency starts.

But this is always the best place to start getting a flavor of how that top part of the first round will shake out. Some is obvious — I think it’s going to take a miracle for the Colts not to take QB Andrew Luck, and I think there’s a good chance the Rams trade out of No. 2 so someone can move up to take QB Robert Griffin III. Speaking of Luck, it’ll be interesting to see if the Colts make anyone available to take a turn at the media podium with all the Peyton Manning speculation going on. I did see Manning’s picture still on the side of Lucas Oil Stadium — for now.

If you are in the Valley, don’t forget you too can take in a small part of the combine yourself if you head down to Tom’s Tavern Thursday or Friday night or Saturday morning (details here) to chat with someone from the Cards who is in Indy. Skype is a wonderful thing.

And, not that it’s combine-related, but be sure to check out the teaser for our new web series. Stories about the Cards, called “Zoom,” and the boys in broadcasting definitely caught my attention with this video.

But again, these next few days are about 40 times and interviews, about “rising and falling” in the draft (even though it isn’t that, because teams haven’t set their draft boards in the first place). Let the offseason begin in earnest.


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The timeline of rehab

Posted by Darren Urban on February 21, 2012 – 2:47 pm

This time of year, strolling through the locker room means mostly a snapshot of guys rehabbing from injury, and — as I had a chance to talk last week to nose tackle Dan Williams about his broken arm — I thought about what that means today compared to when I first started covering the team more than a decade ago. Obviously, a broken arm will heal long before training camp, and it shouldn’t impact Williams in 2012. Same with the arthoscopic knee work done on running back Beanie Wells, who was downstairs today.

The return from more serious injuries, however, seems to have changed, at least a little. That crossed my mind recently when I was mentioning how the Cardinals let Kyle Vanden Bosch leave via free agency. Back in April of 2005, Vanden Bosch’s exit to sign a one-year contract with Tennessee merited just a sentence after Vanden Bosch had suffered two ACL tears in his first three seasons and then had just 15 tackles in 16 games in 2004 as a backup. Vanden Bosch later became a Pro Bowler as a Titan — starring in 2005, in fact — as his knee finally returned to health, but at the time, no one could have guessed that. Contrast that to linebacker O’Brien Schofield, who ripped up his knee in mid-January of 2010 before he was drafted and yet was back on the field by October flashing some of the skills that had impressed so many before his injury.

The Cardinals hope, for instance, running back Ryan Williams (torn patella tendon) and cornerback Greg Toler (ACL tear) both can make significant contributions this season. They are both at the facility most days, rabidly rehabbing. Both are highly optimistic at the way things are going for them. There’s no guarantee they can make an impact — no way to know until they get on the field — but certainly, the possibility is greater than it once was. Medical advances can be a wonderful thing.

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No surprise Fitz there for a friend

Posted by Darren Urban on February 20, 2012 – 11:05 am

There’s been a flurry of “This is what’s going on with Fitz” the last few days as it pertains to, for lack of a better description, how Fitz “gets it” as an NFL superstar. First came Ashley Fox’s column the other day on who Fitz is compared to some of the other wideouts out there (It’s not the first time this subject has been explored, and won’t be the last). Then came a note in Sean Jensen’s article about the funeral for the wife of former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris. Harris’ wife tragically died recently, and Fitz, who was part of the 2004 draft class along with Harris, took a break away from his vacation in South America to attend the funeral. No, Fitz isn’t a superhero, but Mike Sando is right, these are meaningful moments.

Fitz does those kinds of things. The news took me back to last year. My father passed away in the spring. A few days later, despite not being around — the players were gone, if you remember — a text from Fitz popped up on my phone out of the blue one day asking if I was OK and expressing his condolences. A few weeks later, he followed up with another text, just making sure I was doing well. It meant a lot.

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Graves: Campbell not going anywhere

Posted by Darren Urban on February 16, 2012 – 3:56 pm

Not that it’s a surprise because everyone has realized that if a new long-term contract isn’t reached with defensive end Calais Campbell, he would receive a franchise tag to buy time, but general manager Rod Graves said Thursday Campbell will be sticking around. Graves didn’t come out during an interview on Arizona Sports 620 and say Campbell will get the franchise tag, but he did say Campbell would stay put.

“Calais will be with us, rest assured,” Graves said. “We will continue to focus on getting a long term deal in place and it’s a process. But he will be an Arizona Cardinals player this year and we are hoping certainly to extend that to a long-term deal. Conversations are continuing with his agent.”

The only way Graves can be sure Campbell would be a Cardinal this year is to know the tag will be used if a new contract isn’t reached. There is still a long time before the tag deadline. Teams can start using the tag Feb. 20 (Monday) and must apply it no later than March 5, a little more than a week before free agency. There is plenty of time to get a contract hammered out before March 5, and the reality is most deals don’t come down without some kind of deadline approaching.

And of course, if/once the tag is used, discussions will keep going for a new contract.

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Toler gets his degree — and some dorm life

Posted by Darren Urban on February 16, 2012 – 2:28 pm

It may be the best use of a year lost to a torn ACL.

Cornerback Greg Toler, who missed the 2011 season because he wrecked his knee, not only finished up the last three credits he needed at Saint Paul’s College — he took his final Finals a couple weeks ago — to get a degree in Criminal Justice, but he even stayed in a dorm for a couple of nights.

“Some of the guys (who he played football with) said ‘We can’t believe you came back, Greg,’ ” Toler said. “But I stayed in the dorm, and it brought me back around, seeing where I came from.”

Where he came from was the tiny Virginia college that was so far off the football map when he was there it nearly wasn’t on the map, and a school that dropped its football program last summer. He had a mentor telling him as soon as he was drafted to come back and get his degree as soon as he could, before he got caught up in being an NFL player. Toler didn’t heed that, but it was important for him to get it done.

“I just felt like there was no better time than now,” Toler said. “I’m happy to do it for my son, my mother. I’m happy she’s going to be able to see me walk.”

Toler plans to take part in the Saint Paul’s graduation ceremonies in May. He did need some help, and got some both from a student board and the school’s president in allowing him to get into classes after the deadline. He did some work long distance, returned to Virginia for a few weekends for more of the work, and then spent a week (which including his recent dorm experience.) That return included a couple of tests and an essay in biological science, in addition to seeing the guy who ran the pizza shop Toler frequented during his college days.

“He was surprised, saying he thought I would’ve changed, but I’m the same guy, just have a different zip code now,” Toler said.

Rehabbing his knee, Toler — a restricted free agent who is expected to be back with the Cards — has every expectation to be ready for training camp. But he also likes the idea of having a degree. He said he was good in forensics in school, and while he didn’t necessarily see himself following his sister as a second lawyer in the family, he could see himself in some part of law enforcement.

He’d rather play 15 years in the NFL, of course. But he likes what his degree means, for both himself and his son. “Now I can make my son get (a degree),” Toler said. “He’s seen me play football and I don’t want him to think that’s it.”

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Winding through the free-agent road

Posted by Darren Urban on February 15, 2012 – 11:54 am

Almost a month remains before free agency begins in the NFL. So much can happen by then to change the landscape of who — and who will not — be available. One of the biggest examples is with the Cards. Defensive end Calais Campbell is scheduled to hit the open market, but no one believes he will, knowing the Cards will probably franchise him if they can’t come to a contract agreement, which is why those who have put together lists of the top 50 free agents (more on those in a minute) available don’t bother with Campbell’s name. It’s moot.

This close to free agency, I don’t expect, league-wide, a ton of new deals to get done because there is usually no down side for a player to wait at this point. It’s not like they can get hurt, so why not see what’s out there on the open market (which is why I think tackle Levi Brown, while still a candidate to remain in Arizona, won’t be restructuring with the Cards without first knowing what else is available.) Unless a player is floored with an offer, he looks around.

The Cards, aside from Campbell, don’t have expiring contracts that will likely create bidding wars. In both Pete Prisco’s top 50 FA list and the one done by Pro Football Focus, no Cards are to be found, given the Campbell caveat.

(You can track the Cards’ comings-and-goings in free agency right here, by the way.)

Wondering whether, for instance, an Early Doucet will return makes sense but impossible to judge. Things are fluid and will be fluid until the market speaks. For instance, I’ve long thought the Cards should bring back DE Vonnie Holliday, not just because he played well when he was on the field but his impact on the locker room was incredibly impressive. Well, others notice his worth too, and it will be interesting what that could mean for his future.

That’s the best part of the next month though, it’s the storm before the storm, a few weeks of wondering, waiting and guessing until most of this actually happens.

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Take part in some Combine talk with the Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on February 14, 2012 – 10:45 am

The annual NFL Scouting Combine takes place in Indianapolis next week, and the Cards are giving fans a chance to interact with some of the Cards’ front office and personnel men long-distance with three special meetings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday,

At Tom’s Tavern downtown (2 N. Central Avenue in Phoenix), the Cards will host sessions that last about 45 minutes each and will feature live video chats with Cards’ people while they are in Indianapolis. Scheduled to appear on chats are general manager Rod Graves, head coach Ken Whisenhunt, president Michael Bidwill, director of player personnel Steve Keim and scouts Malik Boyd, Dru Grigson and Chris Culmer. In Phoenix, assistant director of pro personnel Quentin Harris will be there in person for the Thursday and Friday sessions.

Former Card wide receiver Frank Sanders (Thursday) and safety Kwamie Lassiter (Friday) are scheduled to appear at Tom’s as well.

The weekday sessions begin at 5:30 p.m. and will be hosted by Paul Calvisi. Saturday starts at 10 a.m. and will be hosted by Ron Wolfley. For details, click here.

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Wilson’s workload was heaviest in NFL

Posted by Darren Urban on February 13, 2012 – 1:25 pm

While Bears beat man Brad Biggs was putting together a playing time story about the team he covers for the Chicago Tribune — based on snaps played — he noted the players who played the most snaps this past season in the entire NFL on both sides of the ball. Turns out the guy who played the most defensive snaps was the Cardinals’ own Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson.

Wilson, according to the NFL stats Biggs acquired, played 1,134 snaps (Saints offensive linemen Jermon Bushrod and Carl Nicks each played 1,152 for the other side of the ball.) So, to recap, Wilson came into 2011 having had ups and downs in 2010, in part because of a abductor injury, and then proceeded, a week into camp, to tear a biceps muscle in his right arm, forcing him to miss the entire rest of the preseason. Yet he promised to be back. He had to play with the biceps tear, and admittedly struggled in the new defense of coordinator Ray Horton early on.

From there, Wilson simply a) played at such a high level in the new system he b) earned yet another Pro Bowl berth, c) led the defense as captain, and d) was on the field more than any other defensive player in the entire NFL. Got it. noted Biggs’ story and headlined it, “Adrian Wilson is tougher than you.”

Not sure we needed a snap count to affirm that, but point taken.

(UPDATE: The Twitter feed of the NFL Network’s Playbook show (@NFLN_Playbook) notes that Darnell Dockett had the most snaps by a defensive tackle in the NFL with 1000, and added that Paris Lenon had the most snaps of any linebacker (although a number wasn’t given.)

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Bidwill recalls big moment for state, Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on February 13, 2012 – 10:42 am

With the state holding its celebration this weekend for 100 years of statehood, team president Michael Bidwill took part in a panel discussion downtown Saturday — along with former Diamondbacks star Luis Gonzalez and national collegiate wrestling champion from Arizona State Anthony Robles, and hosted by Republic columnist Dan Bickley — about their memories of some big sports moments they were part of in Arizona’s history.

For Bidwill, of course, it was the Super Bowl journey in the 2008 season. “The one thing I wanted to see, I wanted to see my father lift the George Halas Trophy over his head,” Bidwill said about the NFC title that emotional day in January of 2009, when the Cards had worked their way to a Super Bowl appearance. “To see us play the Eagles in the NFC Championship game in front of all of you here was something really special for me.”

Bidwill, who is on the Board of Directors of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, also noted the impact of the passing of Prop 302 back in 2000, which not only helped build University of Phoenix Stadium — which is home not only for the Cards but a place to help the Fiesta Bowl keep BCS status — but also create Cactus League homes for baseball teams that might have otherwise fled the state. The stadium also has meant Super Bowls, as in plural, now that the 2015 game is coming back.

At one point during Bidwill’s speech, someone in the audience interrupted by bellowing, “We want Manning!” Bidwill chuckled, asked if someone had put the fan up to it, and moved on. Can’t say anything on that subject right now, not with Peyton Manning still under contract with the Colts.

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