Williams gets his first carries amid FanFest

Posted by Darren Urban on June 13, 2012 – 10:33 pm

I remember, once upon a time, when the Cards had their annual fan-watching-minicamp practices at Sun Devil Stadium when it was called Select-a-Seat. Those days were hot — those metal bleachers really intensified the heat — and didn’t quite have the same vibe as Wednesday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. The turnstile count was just north of 15,000 (the FanFests at the Tempe facility usually get around 5,000), an impressive turnout.

The biggest news of the night, however, was the return of running back Ryan Williams to 11-on-11 work. There is no tackling, no real contact at all, but for Williams to cut and dart like a regular play for the first time since rupturing his patella tendon meant a lot. Williams got just three carries (plus a handful of plays in 7-on-7) but was beaming afterward.

“I haven’t run that fast since I got hurt,” Williams said. “They sprinkled me in there. My first carry (pictured below), I was like, ‘Wow, I’m almost back. I’m almost back.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt called it “an important part of the rehab process.”

“He looked good,” Whisenhunt said. “You forget his quickness, his vision. There is always a little trepidation on your first action like that. It was good to get it out of the way. Now it’s out of his head.”

— There were two big highlights. Rookie receiver Michael Floyd hauled in a long touchdown pass, and then linebacker Reggie Walker did a nice job blanketing tight end Rob Housler and making an end zone interception. Unfortunately, Walker’s post-play celebration was a dance that just left his defensive teammates laughing at him.

“I told them whenever I get a pick or score a touchdown, I’m going to do a dance,” Walker said, “but four (dances) came out at once. I hope no one was taping it.”

— Whisenhunt, with his team down to one practice left for the offseason Thursday morning, said he was pleased with the first workout at the stadium ever.

“What a great atmosphere,” Whisenhunt said. “There were an amazing number of fans with how loud it got. Something like this you don’t know how the team will react. It was a good sign.”

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Whiz patient with QB battle, and ‘lil Sweetness confident

Posted by Darren Urban on June 13, 2012 – 1:31 pm

There may be #CardsFanFest tonight — all the details here — but the Cards still had their “other” minicamp workout (a walkthrough) and then coach Ken Whisenhunt talked a little bit about his quarterback battle.

No, nothing has been resolved yet. John Skelton and Kevin Kolb continue to share first-unit work.

When he was asked if he is hoping he can make a decision sooner rather than later, Whisenhunt couldn’t help but let out a small smile. “”If it was up to me, I’d prefer we had a quarterback resolution two years ago. Obviously that hasn’t happened. When it happens it happens.

“The guys are working hard and getting better and that’s all you can ask of them. The next stage is training camp and then preseason games. It usually works out — and I’m not just talking about the quarterback position — where someone distinguishes themselves. … You’ve got to let this competition play out honestly.”

I don’t want to waste too much on this subject right now. Nothing has been determined. But just in case some believe Whisenhunt is tone deaf to the quarterback issues since Kurt Warner left, he clearly is not.

— On another subject of note, there was a report saying running back Ryan Williams might not be back into a few games into the regular season. That’s not the case. Williams said he is expecting to be ready for the regular-season opener against Seattle. Now, he might not play a ton in the preseason, and may get started later playing preseason games, but it’s the regular season for which he wants to be ready.

“My expectation is back by Week One,” said Williams, who is expecting to do some full team work for the first time tonight at FanFest. “Preseason is more ‘We’ll see, do we want him in here.’ Most important thing is Week One. Regardless of what goes on in preseason, by the first week, the record is still 0-0.”

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Gay’s potential Olympic trip

Posted by Darren Urban on June 13, 2012 – 9:40 am

William Gay spent his Tuesday night on the internet, looking up flights. He’s hoping to go to the Olympics in August, although no, the cornerback is not some crazy two-sport star.

His girlfriend, Natasha Hastings, is a track star, Olympic veteran and gold medal winner in 2008. He’d like to support her effort in the 2012 Games in England, and coach Ken Whisenhunt is open to working with Gay. It’s not a simple process, since the cornerback will be in the middle of training camp. The finals for Hastings’ events are on Aug. 5, which is the same day the Cardinals play the Saints in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio. That’s a long way from London.

“I’d like to see at least one round, fly out and fly back from the game,” Gay said. “Coach told me to try and set up a schedule and let him know, because when I called her and told her the information, she was excited.”

Hastings was a part of the USA’s top 4×400 team in 2008. She’s hoping to compete in the individual 400 too. She and Gay have been together for almost two years – “July 23” he notes proudly as the anniversary – after meeting in Miami when Gay said both were “chilling with friends.” The relationship grew despite long distances and both working as pro athletes.

Gay was long a track fan before that, though. He ran in high school – “Obviously, I wasn’t that good,” he said – and playing for the Steelers, he would attend the Penn Relays. Even now, some of Hastings’ friends don’t get why Gay sits up in the stands during competitions, until she tells them Gay is there to watch the whole meet, not just her.

He’ll talk to her – athlete to athlete – after a competition about what she did right or wrong, just like the two have similar discussions after Gay plays a game. Both are smart enough to let the emotions of a bad outing fade first, Gay said with a smile.

There’s also a dream scenario: “In the same year … she starts it off with getting a gold, I finish it by getting a Super Bowl ring,” Gay said.

Gay will watch Hastings in Eugene, Ore., next week in the U.S. Olympic Trials. In the end, that’s the first step. Nothing else really matters.

“I’m going to look up flights and see what I can do and this week and next week, show Coach my plans,” Gay said. “Then next week, she’s got to make it happen. Because if she don’t go (to London), all the plans go away.”

UPDATE: Hastings did not make the team.

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“Feast or famine”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 12, 2012 – 1:26 pm

As Larry Fitzgerald came off the field after the first minicamp practice of the week, he shook his head. “Feast or famine for me today,” he said, not happily. It seemed like any other summer workday for Fitz, even with the one obvious drop that left him less than thrilled. But that’s Fitz, the guy who caught a pass downfield and then sprinted all the way to the end zone just to finish, even as everyone else had moved back toward the opposite 20-yard line.

In a world where everyone has highs and lows, Fitz doesn’t want any lows. Don’t know if that’s possible, but he’s clearly efforting.

— Only one guy was missing from the mandatory work, and that was defensive lineman Nick Eason, excused to tend to family issues. Offensive linemen D.J. Young (knee) and Blake DeChristopher (back) are out, and running back Beanie Wells (knee) sat too. Everyone else worked at least some.

— Rookie guard Senio Kelemete (below) returned after missing all the OTAs. He couldn’t come because school was still in session. He kept his head in his playbook while he was absent. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he’s still far behind right now, no shock as a rookie.

The Cards go back on the field this afternoon.

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Bidwill worked for Hall game

Posted by Darren Urban on June 11, 2012 – 5:50 pm

Cardinals president Michael Bidwill did an interview on Arizona Sports 620 just now, and among the highlights was a brief explanation of how the Cardinals got picked for the Hall of Fame game against the Saints. Bidwill said he didn’t want to go into details, but he had a “conversation or two” in New York with league people over time. “I wanted to make sure we get more nationally televised games,” Bidwill said.

Now the Cards are in the Hall of Fame game (Nationally, there is also the ESPN Thursday night preseason game in Tennessee and regular season games on NFL Network in St. Louis and the ESPN Monday night game against San Francisco.)

A couple of other Bidwill notes:

— On his feelings about having a competition at quarterback: “I think competition makes the individual players better. I’m excited for the competition not only at the quarterback position but every position.”

— On the possibility the NFL will be using replacement referees: “I’m not concerned. I think the league has a plan in place” if the NFL can’t get a new CBA done with the current officials.

— On what drives him every day in his job: “I want to get back to where we were in late January and early February of 2009, competing to play in the country’s biggest game, the Super Bowl. That’s something that drives me a lot.”

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As expected, Holliday comes back

Posted by Darren Urban on June 11, 2012 – 1:26 pm

As became clear last week after the Cards re-signed veteran linebacker Clark Haggans, the Cards brought back another vet today when veteran defensive end Vonnie Holliday returned on a one-year contract. As I’ve mentioned before, Holliday not only provides depth but is great in the locker room and teaching young players and that part of it can’t be overstated.

To make room for Holliday, the Cards cut undrafted rookie defensive end Conrad Obi. The Cards will take their full 90-man roster into minicamp tomorrow, with two practices.


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Being careful in OTA work

Posted by Darren Urban on June 8, 2012 – 9:39 am

The Seahawks lost a pair of organized team activities this week after the league and the Players Association deemed a previous OTA too rough. The league and the NFLPA are always on the lookout for such things. Over the years, various teams have been docked for similar violations. It even happened to the Cardinals and Dennis Green back in 2004, although the Cards lost a week of the strength and conditioning program by the time they were punished because OTAs had ended by then.

Nevertheless, staying vigilant is important for each team. The new rules say anytime players are on the field at the facility their time must be taped, just in cases the league wants/needs to review something — the Cards even had to trim trees to create better sight lines — although coach Ken Whisenhunt said he feels like his players understand how practices have to go to make sure nothing crosses the line.

“I think our guys have a good understanding of the tempo,” Whisenhunt said. “They go hard but they know when to pull off. You get competitive situations, like line stunts, when you are trying to get timing, but they know they have to pull off and no one has gotten in a position where it has gone over the top. They understand how to practice. It’s not pads, so you can’t really turn it loose like in training camp.”

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A call for fan photos

Posted by Darren Urban on June 7, 2012 – 9:11 am

So here we have the annual request for fan photos and the chance to be shown in a game program this season. If that interests you, send in your best photo of yourself, friends, or family wearing your favorite Cardinals gear. Doesn’t have to be at a home game. It can be from a road game, or at home, or at the Grand Canyon, whatever.

The top shots will be featured in a regular-season Cardinals Kickoff Magazine.

Just submit the picture, your name and the town where you live to Pictures will be selected based on size and photo quality.

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As volume returner, Feely tops Peterson

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2012 – 1:51 pm

So perhaps you noticed the picture I took last week for a OTA photo gallery of kicker Jay Feely collecting six punted balls without dropping any. Anything to help fellow special teamers, right?

Well, Feely saw the picture and used it to challenge Pro Bowl punt returner Patrick Peterson. Could the return man deluxe haul in seven and top Feely? Peterson decided to give it a go Wednesday after practice, taking “kicks” from the JUGS machine. Five worked. Peterson couldn’t pull in the sixth, leaving Feely bragging rights for now.

“I let Jay Feely beat me,” Peterson said, shaking his head. “I’ve got to come out tomorrow and get six. … Hey, he’s got a lot of time on his hands. I was tired. But hey, it’s all good.”

Feely, who is game to compete whenever wherever against his teammates, remained confident in his ability to beat Peterson in this small sliver of the punt return universe and said he’d be ready to wager his young cohort. Feely also is driven to eventually get seven himself.

“The hard part (to get seven) is running to the spot and kind of stick one between your legs and still be ready to catch the ball coming down,” Feely said.

The battle is a small reminder of how coach Ken Whisenhunt used to finish up the weeks during OTAs, with intrateam competitions like position players trying to kick field goals or linemen catching punts. Those haven’t been part of what the Cards are doing this summer, with the OTAs trimmed. No matter. In this matchup, Feely thinks he has the mental edge in this battle for volume-catching supremacy.

“I’ve been in his head for a long time when it comes to this,” Feely said. “I was giving him a hard time about it this morning.”

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Measuring Floyd in June

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2012 – 9:09 am

Not surprisingly, I’ve already gotten a ton of questions asking, in some shape or form, “How does Michael Floyd look so far?” The standard answer, in some shape or form? “Fine.”

It’s easy to say you want the team’s No. 1 draft pick to be eye-popping from the get-go. That’s always the hope. I’m not about to make any money with my scouting ability, but I wouldn’t say Floyd has been eye-popping. But there are reasons for that, and it’s not necessarily a negative thing. When you think about it, most of Floyd’s strengths don’t translate to the underwear season of OTAs. His game is about going up in a crowd at getting a ball, or fighting for YAC, or cracking back on a defender to spring a teammate on a running play. None of those things are going to show up now.

Besides, the number of first-round receivers that sparkle right out of the gate are few and far between, especially on a team that already has a star No. 1. Larry Fitzgerald had some injuries as a rookie, but his stats (58 catches, 780 yards, eight touchdowns) were only good, not great. I am sure the Cards would love for Floyd to have those numbers.

It’s early. If I had to guess, I’d guess Floyd will be part of the group rather than a breakout guy as a rookie. That’s usually how it plays out for receivers. He’s got plenty of time to ramp up and do more, though. At least you can kind of see what Floyd is like; if the Cards had taken an offensive lineman in the first round, it’d be almost impossible to know what they really had at this point.

(P.S. If I had to pick one draft pick that has caught my eye, it’s third-round cornerback Jemell Fleming. Not that I expect him in the starting lineup or anything, but he just looks comfortable making the jump to the NFL. That’s a good sign.)

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