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Smokey Brown and his statue

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2014 – 5:18 pm

John Brown’s nickname is Smokey. It’s more than a nickname for him, really. All his family and friends call him that, a nickname bestowed upon him at birth by the boyfriend of his grandmother. It’s origin story is one of a kind.

“He nicknamed me Smokey because when I first came out, I was blacker than what I am now,” Brown said, referring to his skin color. “Most people are like, ‘Why they call you Smokey? Because you are fast?’ But no.”

You have to admit, it was fun to think Brown had gotten the nickname from the dust he left defenders in when he blew past him with his speed. But as fast as Brown runs, he wasn’t doing it as an infant, and having a nickname that long actually helps the quest to get people to use it. Brown said he’d actually like everyone to refer to him as Smokey rather than J.B. Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians call Brown “Smoke” or “Smokey” when talking about him in interviews, and Brown said almost everyone in the locker room as followed suit. When there is another receiver named Jaron Brown and a linebacker named Jonathan Brown, Smokey makes a lot of sense.

“There’s like a thousand J.B.s in here,” Brown said with a smile.

As the Smokey nickname leaks out little by little, it’s even made its way back to Pittsburg State University, where he said most everyone still called him John Brown but has a community now heating up to Smokey, using it in hashtags and the like in social media. “I like that better,” Brown said.

Brown went back to Pittsburg State on the bye weekend, as a matter of fact. He attended a football game against Fort Hays State — Fort Hays posted a 7-6 upset — and was king of the campus as fans flocked to see the emerging Cardinals star (like in the picture taken below, posted on Twitter by @MHarrison76).

“It was fun,” Brown said. “They were good to me all the years I was there, so I was happy to go back there and show my face. It’s a good feeling. Everyone was happy to see me.”

But wait — it gets better. Brown said Pittsburg State had to assign a bodyguard to make sure the fans didn’t swarm him. The best part? Brown said the school told him they were thinking about building a statue of him. No word yet on whether it’ll just say John Brown on the base or Smokey, but a statue is a big deal.

“It’s real crazy,” Brow …, er, Smokey said.


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Wednesday a big day for Palmer

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2014 – 1:07 pm

So the progress Carson Palmer was hoping for in his throwing shoulder didn’t quite materialize the way he or coach Bruce Arians wanted over the weekend. So the quarterback was still pretty limited Monday at practice and it makes Wednesday — probably — the Denver tipping point. If Palmer can go Wednesday, he probably will be fine Sunday. If he cannot, it throws a lot of doubt on a Denver appearance, or at least brings Drew Stanton back front and center.

“Wednesday and Thursday would be huge this week,” Arians said.

Arians was asked if his gut was telling him Palmer would play against the Broncos: “I quit trusting my gut a long time ago,” Arians deadpanned. “It’s been lying to me forever.”

This was a big story before the 49ers game. Now that Stanton has looked so solid in two starts, it isn’t as much. Palmer said he is staying optimistic he can play against the Broncos but there’s really no way to know. “I wish I could predict the future,” he said.

The Cardinals are pretty healthy otherwise. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was back at practice. And while guard Paul Fanaika was off to the side, Arians said he’d be back at practice Wednesday. If Fanaika couldn’t go in a game, Jonathan Cooper would go to left guard and Ted Larsen would slide over from the left side to take Fanaika’s spot.

“I don’t know how many guys would’ve played last Sunday (if there was a game),” Arians said. “I’m sure we would have been out of at least three that would not have played. It’s going to happen sometime down the road here. (With) 13 weeks in a row, there’re going to get beat up and we’re going to be missing some guys. It’ll be next man up.”



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For Cards, the lure of a London game

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2014 – 10:48 am

Cardinals president Michael Bidwill attended the NFL’s London game over the weekend between the Raiders and Dolphins. The idea was to see first-hand what the league is doing in England as they export a few games there each year. Interestingly, he told fans there as he sat on a panel discussion (reported by MMQB.com) he would like the Cardinals to play in London again — they played a preseason game there in 1983, opening the exhibition schedule against the Vikings — but “as the visiting team.” No doubt the Cardinals would be loathe to surrender a home game now that a) University of Phoenix Stadium sells out every game and b) the Cardinals now have a noticeable home-field advantage.

Besides, the Cardinals have already done the give-up-a-home-game-to-export-a-game-that counts thing. That came in 2005, when the Cardinals figured it was worth being part of the first NFL regular-season game outside of the United States and moved their home game against the 49ers that year to Mexico City. Made sense. The Cardinals got to have a game in which they would set the NFL record at the time for attendance at more than 100,000 and get ESPN exposure on a Sunday night game in exchange for losing a date at Sun Devil Stadium that figured at best to draw 35,000 or so.

It also makes sense that it’s the Raiders and Jaguars that play these London games, with bad stadium situations and a willingness to give up home games. The Cards could have been on the slate for a London game the past couple of years. We’ll see if it comes true anytime soon — as a visitor, of course.


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Mathieu works on “just being that guy again”

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2014 – 9:06 am

All summer long, azcardinals.com chronicled the rehab and comeback of safety Tyrann Mathieu from his devastating knee injury. The Honey Badger is back on the field, and so, for this part of Mathieu’s career, the story comes to a close. In this “Zoom” episode, the “Tenacious” series ends continues (actually, there will be one more episode soon with Mathieu talking about inspiring people and his son) with Mathieu looking back on the journey that started last December. And realizing he still has a little work to do.

“As I look back from where I am now, I think the toughest part was being cleared from rehab and having to transition back to the football field,” Mathieu said. “You’re not quite there yet, not quite in shape physically and mentally, you still have a hurdle to overcome. Right now, this is the toughest part for me because your teammates look at you and your coaches look at you and the fans look at you because they know you, they know you made plays. The toughest part right now is just being that guy again.”

Coach Bruce Arians talked all week about Mathieu needing to get past that mental roadblock of just letting loose. Mathieu is expected to jump to playing about 30 plays against Denver the next time out, assuming he’s ready in his head. At some point, he’ll be a major part of the defense again. When that point is will be up to him.

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At 3-0, Friday before the bye

Posted by Darren Urban on September 26, 2014 – 2:51 pm

There had to be some doubt, right? If not when Daryl Washington was suspended then when John Abraham didn’t show up to camp on time or Jonathan Cooper’s leg proved not-ready-for-primetime and for sure when Darnell Dockett went down. Maybe that was the day for me, when Dockett crumpled on the University of Phoenix Stadium turf during a run-of-the-mill training camp practice. At some point, it was all going to catch up with them, and maybe that was the day, with a guy who meant so much to the emotional tenor of the team and without whom depth was an issue.

That’s the day that keeps popping back into my head as the Cardinals sit here, going into a bye week, atop the NFC West standings at 3-0. Two wins over playoff teams. Two wins in games when starting quarterback Carson Palmer could not play, a mountain NFL teams these days often cannot climb. Where this goes isn’t easy to predict, but at the same time the belief is embedded by now.

The Cardinals won’t go undefeated. But at this point, there isn’t a game on the schedule – as difficult as it might be – that would cause someone to be surprised if the Cards won on that particular weekend.

– Since 1990, 75.2 percent of NFL teams that started 3-0 have made the postseason (91 of 121). Of course, we all know that one of those 30 teams was the 2012 Cardinals. But as I’ve said, this team is built much differently.

– In my eyes the biggest surprises? Well, beyond the play of Drew Stanton, which I really didn’t see coming, I’d say the defense as a whole. The pass rush, well, it is what it is, and in a vacuum, it’s not really that good. But defensive coordinator Todd Bowles makes it better with his schemes. I heard former offensive lineman/ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth on Arizona Sports’ “Bickley and Marotta” show today saying when watching video, he can’t believe how much the Cardinals actually blitz. Teams normally are burned by such maneuvering. The Cards are not, he said, because everyone is so in sync.

– I am a little surprised Jonathan Cooper is still on the bench. But Harold Goodwin is taking an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach with the O-line. Bruce Arians said once the season started it’d be hard for Coop to get on the field. He wasn’t lying.

– I am surprised rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro has been this steady. He’s 9-for-9 on field goals, tying he-was-a-Cardinal-for-few-days Dan Carpenter – now in Buffalo – for most in the league. He drilled a 51-yarder, a franchise rookie record, and impressively, 14 of his 17 kickoffs have left the opponent at no better than the 20-yard line, including nine touchbacks.

– Deone Bucannon has looked pretty solid in his dollar linebacker role, although he definitely has room to improve in pass coverage. Fellow safety Tony Jefferson has been a revelation. When Tyrann Mathieu is back to full strength, what a secondary this will be.

– Although no more scares like that Cromartie knee injury thing last week. Between the end of last season and Dockett, this team has had its fill of ACL tears.

– Just in case you want to make that story even better when the Cardinals, with just nine players on the field, blocked the 49ers’ field goal last week, how about this: The Niners actually had a fake called on the play, and then changed their mind, and not everyone got the message.

– The 49ers ended up with a trio of fines from last Sunday’s penalty-fest against the Cardinals, although neither hit on Cardinals QB Drew Stanton by linebacker Dan Skuta or Patrick Willis drew a fine (nor did Willis’ penalty flag on his helmet-to-helmet hit on wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.)

San Francisco wide receiver Anquan Boldin was fined $8,263 for his headbutt on Jefferson. Tackle Jonathan Martin was fined $8,263 for clipping Bucannon, and safety Eric Reid fined $8.263 for facemasking wide receiver John Brown.

– Good story from Kyle Odegard on Cardinals’ VP of player personnel Terry McDonough and his brother Ryan, who is GM of the NBA team in town, the Phoenix Suns.

– So this is what it’s like to have an offensive line you’re not stressing about every game?

– I do expect the offense to get better as the season goes along, assuming health. Andre Ellington will be better. And yes, I think Fitz will eventually get the ball more often.

I’m going to go enjoy the bye weekend now. Practice resumes Monday.


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Arians “don’t sell no one no dreams”

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2014 – 1:51 pm

Veteran Tommy Kelly, about whom I will be writing a story about next week, was talking about his relationship with the Cardinals’ coaching staff. The big defensive tackle didn’t feel like he had the best communication with Patriots coach Bill Belichick down the stretch of his time there. It’s been a lot different for Kelly with Bruce Arians and company.

“People get much more out out of a veteran player if you’re just up front with them,” said Kelly, who came into the league in 2004. “(Arians) don’t sell no one no dreams.”

Maybe more than anything, that’s been the biggest thing Bruce Arians has brought to the Cardinals. He’s talked many times about his “Coach ‘em hard, hug ‘em later” philosophy, which includes more than a couple of curse words most practices but an ability to have that tension wash away as soon as the final horn for practice sounds. More importantly, Arians is across the board doesn’t lay the manure on when he talks to his players. Arians is blunt when meeting the media and he’s the same with his roster. “Players respect the truth,” Arians said, and sometimes, that means being brutally honest. His assistants do the same.

Yes, it can sting, I am sure. But there isn’t anyone on the Cards that can can claim they are in the dark about their role. I remember at one point last year — in the summer of 2013 — when a coach let Larry Fitzgerald know that sometimes, his job was to attract the defense so the ball could go elsewhere. That (among other things) was probably hard for Fitz to hear, but he knew where he stood. When Arians let the world know — presumably after he had let Cooper know — that Jonathan Cooper wasn’t playing the way the Cardinals hoped he would, that’s the message received.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the player is always going to be happy about hearing what he’s hearing. But as long as Arians isn’t selling any dreams, the truth works more than it hurts.


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The punter who won’t leave

Posted by Darren Urban on September 24, 2014 – 5:18 pm

The Cardinals cut punter Drew Butler for a second time this week, and then Wednesday re-signed him again. This time it is to the practice squad, with the Cardinals letting defensive tackle Christian Tupou go from the practice squad. Tupou wasn’t needed once the Cardinals brought back/in Bruce Gaston from the Dolphins’ practice squad today to the Cards’ 53-man roster. Gaston, the undrafted rookie whom the Cardinals really liked in training camp before cutting him, replaced running back Jalen Parmele on the 53, who was unnecessary when Marion Grice was signed yesterday — taking Butler’s place on the roster.

Keeping all that straight?

Clearly, there is probably still some concern about Dave Zastudil’s groin injury, but having Butler (wearing No. 2 below) around is insurance (love that new 10-man practice squad to give a team some leeway with a practice-squad punter). I’d still guess Zastudil should be OK, but we’ll see. Bruce Arians said today everyone should be totally healthy come Monday save for a little uncertainty on quarterback Carson Palmer. But Palmer should be ready by Wednesday now that he’s throwing again, so there’s that.

– 49ers linebacker Dan Skuta said today he was not fined for his hit on sliding QB Drew Stanton.



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No changes on the line — meaning Coop delayed

Posted by Darren Urban on September 24, 2014 – 9:26 am

Look back to the year the Cardinals made the Super Bowl, and open the page of the season in review to the game-by-game starting lineups. On offense, it’s not hard to notice:

LT           LG          C                  RG         RT

Gandy    Wells     Sendlein     Lutui     L. Brown

Gandy    Wells     Sendlein     Lutui     L. Brown

Gandy    Wells     Sendlein     Lutui     L. Brown

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, all the way through the Super Bowl.

Continuity on the offensive line isn’t the only reason the Cardinals got to the final game that season, but it was a reason. And it’s what popped into my head Tuesday as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin made very clear the offensive line wouldn’t be changing unless there is an injury. No, Jonathan Cooper will not be going back into the lineup at left guard for Ted Larsen. The Cardinals like the job Larsen has done. More importantly Goodwin doesn’t want to change what is working (I believe I’ve mentioned that a time or two) as the Cardinals have had much better line play and, of course, a 3-0 start.

It’s about communication, Goodwin said, and keeping that intact.

Look, Cooper isn’t going anywhere. He’s not a bust. Can’t say that yet. I will be stunned if he is not a starter in 2015. There is still a chance he could play this year. Goodwin expressed his confidence in Cooper as a player, and at this point, Goody has shown he’s not the kind of guy to hand out platitudes. But the slow start in camp of Cooper coming back from that broken leg, and the turf toe that delayed his progress, seems to have set his course in cement for 2014.


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Cards add RB Grice, cut Butler

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2014 – 9:37 am

The Cardinals have added a local favorite, signing running back Marion Grice from Arizona State off the Chargers’ practice squad on a two-year contract. To make room, they released punter Drew Butler, in the assumption Dave Zastudil will be able to get healthy over the bye week and finally be rid of his groin issues. Grice looked good against the Cardinals in the preseason finale running for the Chargers (17 carries for 79 yards), and given San Diego’s running back injuries — Danny Woodhead was lost for the season this Sunday in the latest blow — it was thought Grice would be promoted. Instead, Grice comes back to Arizona, where he scored 20 touchdowns in just 11 games for the Sun Devils last season.

Grice was a sixth-round pick of San Diego.

The move gives the Cardinals five running backs on the roster: Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, Robert Hughes and Jalen Parmele join the 6-0, 207-pound Grice.

Marion Grice

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“Apprehensive” Mathieu not there yet

Posted by Darren Urban on September 22, 2014 – 3:27 pm

Tyrann Mathieu was in on a season-high 15 plays Sunday against the 49ers, yet the safety still recorded six tackles, including one for loss. It wasn’t a bad performance, but it wasn’t a Honey Badger performance either.

“He was way too apprehensive and afraid he was going to cost us,” coach Bruce Arians said. “You could tell the look in his eye. We had a little talk right before the kickoff of the second half about letting it go and don’t be out there thinking you’re going to cost us. We wouldn’t put you out there if we think you’re going to cost us.”

This is all natural for a guy coming off major knee surgery to repair an ACL and LCL. Mathieu couldn’t argue with Arians’ assessment. On third downs (and one fourth down), Mathieu said, he was playing “a little lackadaisical” in his technique.

“Things I wouldn’t normally do,” Mathieu said. “Like I said, I’m still a few weeks away from being the guy I want to be. That confidence will come with more time, more playing time.”

A “few” weeks is nebulous. Moments later, Mathieu said he thought he could be playing like he wants as soon as the Cardinals’ next game, when they travel to Denver a week from Sunday’s bye date. In the two practices this week, it is the backups who will get the majority of the work, and right now, Mathieu remains a backup to Tony Jefferson and Rashad Johnson.

“Hopefully I’ll be who I want to be when we really want me to be,” Mathieu said, smiling at his own tongue-twister.

“I think it’s all mental,” Mathieu said. “My knee is fine. It’s that mental hurdle. But I am encouraged. I think I did decent (Sunday). It wasn’t my best game, but I did fine.”

Mathieu said he was happy Arians gave him the pep talk Sunday — admitting there might have been a curse word or two mixed in — and tried to take it to heart.

But, “you telling me that and me actually doing it is two different things,” Mathieu said. “Hopefully he keeps encouraging me.”



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