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Friday before the Bears, a preseason meme

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2017 – 2:49 pm

The Bears, the Cardinals and really, who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bullspit? Bullspit!

I know it’s only Week 2 for the Bears — and frankly, for the Cardinals, who aren’t marching their main guys out for a half until next week’s Week 4/Week 3 game in Atlanta — so again, this is more of a ramp-up game. Bruce Arians isn’t calling plays until next week (that falls on QB coach Byron Leftwich again.) There will be around 20 plays for the starters, although as usual it could be less if each unit is effective. The biggest story in the game will probably be Chicago QBs Mike Glennon vs. Mitchell Trubisky, so we can see how Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson and company can mess with the immediate Bears future.

(In ’06, that Bears preseason game was Matt Leinart’s second appearance in the NFL, after playing on only a couple of days of practice — he signed late — in New England the week before. Leinart vs Warner. Those were the days.)

— It’ll be the first game for left tackle D.J. Humphries. Arians said Humphries did fine in his first practice Wednesday. I thought he had a slow start to Thursday’s work. As with the whole offensive line, he needs to ramp up — although again, with so much camp, there is plenty of time to get ready.

— Speaking of getting ready, the same goes for linebacker Karlos Dansby, who has been bothered by a leg issue. Deone Bucannon is ostensibly still on target to return to practice likely after the preseason games are over. Maybe a couple of days before. That inside linebacker crew could be a juggling situation for the first game. Haason Reddick is clearly still learning, and Scooby Wright, while solid on special teams, has shortcomings on defense. Both are players to watch against the Bears.

— DT Robert Nkemdiche has played well in the preseason but this week, the coaching clearly got harder. Nkemdiche is doing the right things as far as effort and intensity. But the technique must improve, because that is what will beat the better players in the regular season. Everyone has the talent.

— Others I’ll be watching in particular this week: Both punters; Kerwynn Williams on another punt return or two; the down-depth-chart receivers like Carlton Agudosi and Chris Hubert in particular since Brittan Golden (groin) likely won’t play; Justin Bethel and Tramon Williams (I haven’t forgotten about CB No. 2); and more Budda Baker.

— It’d be nice to see a little David Johnson but not too much.

— I’ll be curious to see how much John Brown plays. Smoke did much more in practice this week. But he certainly is not 100 percent, and the trainers keep a close eye on that quad injury. Still, Brown made some plays Thursday, and after one touchdown Larry Fitzgerald made sure everyone knew it was Smoke and then made sure to give Brown the side-five.

— Fitz, by the way, seemed like he was having a great time Thursday. For a guy who is usually tops on the list of wishing training camp wasn’t so long, it didn’t seem to be impacting him. That’s probably good, because after the game, there’s still one week left.


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After practice: Gump goes headless

Posted by Darren Urban on August 17, 2017 – 4:50 pm

The final practice of the week Thursday didn’t have a ton of flavor. Featuring cards and simulated Bears offensive and defensive plays to prep each side of the ball for Saturday’s game, there wasn’t a lot to draw upon. But afterward it was kind of interesting. Rookie cornerback Gump Hayes came off the field holding shoulder pads and helmets of veterans. That’s not unusual. What was unusual was that he had five sets not including his own — including one balanced on his head, turning Hayes “headless” — and that the players he was helping out were walking with him.

Patrick Peterson even directed him to do an interview with the media, although Peterson asked the questions — addressing Hayes by his given name, De’Chavon.

— As for the actual practice, the receivers looked fairly solid. Rookie Carlton Agudosi returned to practice after hurting his knee last week and made a couple of nice catches, including a touchdown in the red zone. I doubt Agudosi makes the 53-man roster, but he could be intriguing for the future.

— S Harlan Miller made an interception, and had one Wednesday and had he almost had one Tuesday.

— WR Chris Hubert, he of “He’s always wide-ass open” fame, got wide-ass open deep for a touchdown bomb.

— CB Justin Bethel had an interception, but in real life it wouldn’t have been a pick because the Bears quarterback — the offense was running a Chicago play — would have been sacked on a Tyrann Mathieu safety blitz first.

— LT D.J. Humphries seemed to have a slow start to practice, but he rallied later for some solid snaps.

— After the game Saturday, the Cardinals come back Monday for a practice. One week left of training camp, with three practices open to the public.


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A BASK health update (they’re fine. Really)

Posted by Darren Urban on August 17, 2017 – 12:33 pm

Bruce Arians is coming off his vegan diet and feels great. Steve Keim just wants to heal.

Yes, it’s the dog days of camp. There are on-field health issues to worry about, and the Cardinals are. Apparently all the missed practices for LB Karlos Dansby weren’t really vet rest days as much as a leg issue that Arians said had been bothering him. The Cards have figured out what’s what, and Arians said “he doesn’t need much work” anyway. Dansby needs to get in football shape, but there are still three weeks for that, Arians added. T D.J. Humphries came through practice looking good and is expected to play Saturday.

As for coach and the GM …

— Keim is coming off surgery to fix a torn right Achilles, when it just gave way one day last week when he stood up to walk. Instead of sitting in the stands to watch practice — or coming down to the field as he has sometimes — Keim now has to watch from the concourse. Still, Keim is going to work through the injury, and he’s expected to remain the starting GM as the Cardinals get to the end of the preseason and have to cut from 90 to 53.

— Arians was given a vegan diet in an ongoing quest to help his health. He had a big smile when he said he was able to have meat for the first time in a long time. “Had a grass-fed burger,” Arians said. “It was really good with nothing else. And a bunch of vegetables.”

Arians admitted there was “nothing” he liked about being vegan. “I’m shocked I could stick to it but I was kind of proud I did for 27 days,” Arians said.

Now, protein is slowly being reintroduced to his diet. Vegetables were OK, although Arians couldn’t have his favorite, a special brussels sprouts dish served at one of his favorite restaurants. “There’s a whole lot of butter and bacon in those babies,” Arians said. Still, he sneaked out once to have them.

“I told them I ate brussels spouts,” Arians said, a smile creeping across his face. “They said, ‘You did good.’ ”


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After practice: Nkemdiche as teaching tool

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2017 – 4:51 pm

There is a flip side to teaching Robert Nkemdiche, who, make no mistake, is still trying to learn how to play his position on the defensive line. Every day, you can see Nkemdiche’s power and athleticism and effort as he tries to bury his disappointing rookie season, but in technique and discipline (making sure he doesn’t jump offsides), he is still in-progress.

But the power/athleticism/effort also gives offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin a powerful tool when it comes to teaching his young players. Specifically, rookie fourth-round guard Dorian Johnson, who many times has been set up to face Nkemdiche. Before these matchups, Goodwin talks to Nkemdiche as much as Johnson, and given the intensity in which Nkemdiche attacks, it’s some serious on-the-job training.

The final one-on-one rep was a Nkemdiche win, pushing Johnson way back. Clearly Johnson isn’t ready to play this season, but this is how he gets better, and that Nkemdiche can help in the cause is an interesting turn, given where he was at as a player last season when he was a rookie.

— Left tackle D.J. Humphries was out working with the first unit most of practice for the first time since hurting his hamstring. “This whole situation kind of taught me to listen to my body a little bit, that you’re not in college anymore,” Humphries said. “It felt good today.”

— Wide receiver John Brown did look better at practice, making a handful of receptions in 11-on-11.

— Veteran receiver Jeremy Ross has picked up his play the last couple of days. And he looked like he was running ahead of J.J. Nelson Wednesday.

— Tight end Ifeanyi Momah made another nice reception and like previous camps, has proven himself as a receiver. They already like his special teams work. He should have a spot on the roster. He needs to continue to work on his blocking.

— LB Terrence Waugh left practice with some sort of leg injury.

— Earlier in the day, Bruce Arians noted that the best down-the-depth-chart receiver had been “‘Little Smoke” Chris Hubert. “He’s been wide-ass open,” Arians said. “We just haven’t hit him.” Early in practice, Hubert ran a nice route to the right sideline of the end zone, and he was wide open. Blaine Gabbert’s pass was too wide, however.

— Patrick Peterson made a nice interception, running the route ahead of wide receiver Jaron Brown. Safety Harlan Miller also had a pick. Rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, back from an ankle issue, had an impressive diving TD catch.

— The first-team offense ran a quick screen to Jaron Brown. Tyrann Mathieu smelled it out and would have made a quick line-of-scrimmage tackle, if, you know, they were actually tackling. “C’mon dog, you gotta set it up better than that!” Mathieu yelled. “Too easy! Too easy!”


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“Bored” in camp and more receiverpalooza

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2017 – 1:05 pm

Bruce Arians was happier overall with practice Tuesday (although he’s still making them put on full pads again today), but the Cardinals are “getting bored with each other” at this point in camp.

“Have to fight through that,” Arians added.

Games mean something, even preseason games. And the players look forward to those. But with some teams already breaking camp around the league — teams that didn’t go to camp until well after the Cardinals — and the Cardinals still out at University of Phoenix Stadium and their hotel home through next week, the dog days are definitely here.

“That’s what training camp is,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “It hardens you, makes you a better team. … Everybody wants to get to the season but we still have a lot of work to do.”

— The ongoing story about the wide receivers remained ongoing. Arians was asked about wide receiver John Brown, who had noted that his sickle-cell issue slows his healing process. “That’s a fact,” Arians acknowledged.

As for having to wait on Brown’s return, “I don’t have any choice,” Arians said. “If he can’t run he can’t play. Now, if he can’t run long enough (after he returns), you’ve got to replace him.”

Brown’s stamina looked fine before the quad injury, so that shouldn’t be a problem once Brown gets back. But the Cardinals are clearly watching the situation. Palmer, noting there is still nearly a month before the regular season, isn’t worried about one of his close friends.

“He wants to be out there, but at the same time, we have a ways to go before we play our first game,” Palmer said. “He’s a big part of this offense. We want him in Detroit and we need him in Detroit.”

— Safety Tyrann Mathieu, asked for his perspective on the struggling wide receivers. As teammates, the secondary tries to help motivate, he said. He also noted (with a smile), “They’re not going up against any scrubs.”

— Larry Fitzgerald practiced yesterday when it was supposed to be a day off. “He wanted to help lead his group,” Arians said. What does that say about the veteran Pro Bowler? “You can’t say anything more about Larry that hasn’t been said,” Arians said. “He takes care of his room as good as anybody.”

— Arians said the Cardinals will “probably” keep six receivers on the 53-man roster.

— LB Josh Bynes (hamstring) will probably miss a week. LB Philip Wheeler (foot) is probably out another week, while LB Jarvis Jones (back) isn’t responding and may need another epidural. LB Markus Golden (foot) is day-to-day. T D.J. Humphries (hamstring) should get extended work today.


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After practice: Hurting John Brown “can’t rush it”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 5:32 pm

For the first time in a couple of weeks, John Brown worked in 11-on-11 situations in practice Tuesday. He didn’t run every rep he normally would, because he is, by his own admission after practice, not healed from his quad injury. It was a sullen Smoke who talked about his situation. He clearly knows his absence is felt, and he realizes many want him back on the field. But the wideout made it plain he wasn’t going to rush the process.

“I understand the situation at receiver but I’m just going to come back when I’m ready,” Brown said.

Brown knows his injury history. He’s also key to this offense. If he can get healthy in another week or two, that’s probably good enough. He needs to be healthy when the games count.

“I can’t rush it,” Brown added. “My body is different than others. They expect me to come back fast, but I can’t.”

All the receivers heard Bruce Arians’ message from the day before. Larry Fitzgerald was supposed to have a rest day Tuesday. He was out there practicing. On one touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hubert — who didn’t catch the ball as much as he was forced to catch the ball, barely turning around before a Trevor Knight laser lodged in his stomach — Fitzgerald bellowed “We’ve got 12 who can play! We’ve got 12 who can play in the league!”

— It wasn’t a perfect day for on-notice receivers. Rookie Chad Williams got two yards behind a defender and QB Blaine Gabbert dropped in a gorgeous 39-yard bomb perfectly, only to have the ball go through Williams’ arms. But the dropsies went both ways. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, safety Harlan Miller and linebacker Cap Capi all dropped sure interceptions. Capi would easily have had a pick-6 on a throw to the flat.

— Robert Nkemdiche was getting reps in one-on-ones against offensive linemen every time through a unit — first-string, second-string, third-string. The last time through he exploded into and through the chest of rookie guard Dorian Johnson. Clearly, Nkemdiche still needs to work on proper technique. But if he doesn’t get it, it won’t be for lack of coaching.

— DT Frostee Rucker was also supposed to have an off day but like Fitz, he practiced. Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson and Karlos Dansby sat. G Mike Iupati stopped taking reps midway through practice — not sure if it was injury-related, but Cole Toner worked with the first unit — and linebacker Josh Bynes also left practice early. Linebacker Markus Golden (ankle) missed a second straight practice.

— Finally, if there was any question about how hard it is to cover running back David Johnson on pass plays, it was painfully evident. Linebackers have no chance — Johnson twisted up Haason Reddick, Chandler Jones and Scooby Wright at different times. It’s not fair, really.


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A quiet Arians is a scary Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 12:20 pm

J.J. Nelson mentioned Monday that while Bruce Arians had made it known he was not happy with the wide receivers, he was “saying it in a nice way.”

Yeah, well, that’s not a good thing.

“I was very nice about it,” Arians said Tuesday, very even-keeled while speaking on the subject. “I said (GM) Steve (Keim) is upstairs right now looking at tape for more new (receivers).”

That was probably a B.A.-mic drop moment. “I don’t really give a s*** what they think,” Arians said. “They were told real quietly and that scared them.”

It reminded me of my parents — and probably many parents. I know I’ve done it with my kids. Getting yelled at isn’t good, but when the tone gets quiet and perhaps a little more deliberate, something not so good is going down.

“If I’m hollering, I’m coaching ’em,” Arians said. “When I’m not hollering, it’s not a good thing.”

— Three receivers (coincidence? Probably not) are attempting to return to practice full today: John Brown (quad), Chad Williams (shin splints) and Aaron Dobson (hamstring). Tackle D.J. Humphries (hamstring) is going to try individual drills today, and Arians expects him back to practice later this week and to be able to play Saturday.


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After practice: Lethargic offense and a glove

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2017 – 6:31 pm

Well, it’s a different kind of “After practice” post here because, for the first time in camp, we had Bruce Arians commenting on an afternoon practice as soon as it was over. Usually Arians talks in the morning, or at the very least right before practice. But because of Roger Goodell’s appearance today, Arians was moved back. What ended up happening? Arians talked about how the Cardinals were “lethargic offensively.” He didn’t have great things to say about the wide receivers in particular, warning of potentially bringing in other pass catchers. But he wasn’t happy with other parts, some of the blocking and dropped passes by tight ends. He did say Carson Palmer — all the quarterbacks, actually — did well. They didn’t get any help.

One particular sequence, as the Cardinals practiced their coming-off-the-goal line on offense. Second unit was in, with Drew Stanton behind center. The ugly series went:
–No one really open, and when Stanton went to safety valve it to running back Kerwynn Williams, Williams wasn’t looking, apparently bothered by an ankle that he had looked at earlier in practice;
— Center Tony Bergstrom forgetting the snap count and snapping early, causing a fumble that Stanton needed to fall on;
— A false start by right tackle Ulrick John;
— A dropped pass by tight end Ifeanyi Momah.

That was kind of the vibe of the day.

— There were a couple of offensive highlights. During that same scenario with the first-unit offense, running back David Johnson busted up the middle and then veered left on a third-down draw play and the receivers all to one side, galloping to a 70-yard run or so. It was pretty. It also set up a nice 2-yard TD pass later from Palmer to Jaron Brown, who posted up cornerback Justin Bethel in the end zone.

— Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand. Arians said Palmer would have to say why, and I didn’t get a chance to ask. The last time Palmer had a glove on his hand, it was after getting a cut prior to the season finale in Los Angeles last year.

— At one point, offensive line coach Harold Goodwin had a conversation with rookie guard Dorian Johnson, who has taken some lumps in camp.

— Blaine Gabbert had a beautiful 45-yard-or-so deep ball to wide receiver Chris Hubert.

— Red-hot linebacker Josh Bynes had another practice interception.

— So did Tyrann Mathieu, who cut right in front of Larry Fitzgerald.


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Keim: David Johnson needs reps

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2017 – 8:16 am

Running back David Johnson only played a few snaps for the Cardinals Saturday, getting three touches — all runs, for 16 yards — on the first four plays. He was stood up on his last carry and took a shot, although General Manager Steve Keim said he wasn’t concerned.

“It’s going to be tough to hurt a 228-pound back,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Keim also made one other thing clear: While there might be a feeling like placing Johnson in bubble wrap until the Cardinals get to the regular season could be the best course of action, it is not. “As good as he is,” Keim added, “he needs the reps as well.” There’s no substitute for getting action in a full-speed football game when it comes to getting ready for full-speed football games. That’s the reality, risk or not.

Among some of the other Keim thoughts from the morning:

— After the constant talk the past two camps about the progress of D.J. Humphries (two years ago) and Robert Nkemdiche (last year), Keim was asked if there had been anyone in particular he has been disappointed or frustrated with this camp. Keim said no. The GM admitted that early in camp he might’ve been frustrated with second-year cornerback Brandon Williams from a consistency standpoint, “but he’s picked it up. He’s working his tail off. … He’s come a long way.”

Keim said he can’t think of anyone underachieving, and given Keim’s ability to be blunt like his head coach, that’s a good sign.

— Not surprisingly, one guy Keim was pleased about from Saturday’s game was linebacker Josh Bynes. Bynes picked up the defense quickly, and Keim likes his range, speed and length. “He’s had some success in the past,” Keim said, and echoed what has become clear, that Bynes has a shot at the roster.

— Keim was happy with offensive execution and the physical play from the Cardinals. He was hoping for a three-and-out from the first-team defense after the initial TD (it should be noted the Raiders didn’t play starting quarterback Derek Carr), but that’s one of a handful of things the Cards can work on this week.

— There are still many things to improve for Nkemdiche, Keim said. But he did say Nkemdiche is “headed in the right direction,” praising his want-to, work ethic and film study.

— Film study will be important to the top two draft picks, linebacker Haason Reddick and Budda Baker. Both need to keep working on getting their eyes in the right place during plays, understanding what the offense is doing and finding a balance between quality aggressiveness and staying disciplined.

— Both punters had “extremely live legs” but Keim emphasized it’s not just the length of punts that are judged but also hang time, ball placement and such.


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Raiders aftermath, as Stanton shines

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2017 – 12:01 am

It was a new perspective for me Saturday night, with my new preseason duties as sideline radio reporter putting me down on the field the whole game. The focus goes up when there isn’t Twitter to watch and interact with, that’s for sure. The Cardinals had most things go exactly how they’d like them to have gone. The injuries were limited and minor, and the first-team offense was solid.

But the fact Drew Stanton played so well (11-of-15 passing) was helpful. One, it helps define what the rest of the preseason is about, and in the case of the quarterbacks, that’s whether Blaine Gabbert is someone to keep as a third quarterback rather than supplanting Stanton as No. 2 (not that it was ever that close to being a battle anyway.) The Cardinals took a flier on Gabbert to see if he might have some future value. The plan was always for Stanton to remain No. 2. Stanton’s poise in the pocket impressed Saturday. He also praised strength coach Buddy Morris and that crew for preparing his body so well, noting it’s made a difference. Whatever the reason Stanton got off to such a good start — he had as many completions against the Raiders as he did all of the 2016 preseason — the Cardinals will take it.

— Same with Carson Palmer, who looked sharp. There were a couple of near misses. The Cards will lament greatly if Palmer slightly overthrows a wide-open Jaron Brown for what should’ve been a 46-yard touchdown if it had been the regular season. But the bullet to Brittan Golden for a touchdown was nice, and Palmer maneuvered the pocket well.

— David Johnson, 3 carries for 16 yards. I’m not sure I’d need to see him at all the rest of the preseason. He looked fine.

— Golden is one of those guys who just makes it so hard to cut. Three catches for 44 yards and a score, and he’s good on special teams.

— The punters weren’t busy, but they clearly got the message from coach Bruce Arians. Each only punted once. Matt Wile crushed a 65-yarder (net of 56), Richie Leone launched a 61-yarder (net of 45). Wile’s kickoffs were impressive all night too. In fact, special teams did pretty well. Josh Mauro had a blocked field goal and Kerwynn Williams had a 35-yard kickoff return and a 13-yard punt return. Phil Dawson nailed both field goal tries and two extra points with ease (Wile missed a 46-yard field goal, but again, he won’t be trying field goals when it counts.)

— Linebacker Josh Bynes had a team-best six tackles, a half-sack, a tackle-for-loss, a big forced fumble and a pass breakup. He’s a vet, last of the Lions, signed because of injuries — and you have to wonder if he could make a push for a roster spot. he and Scooby Wright could be fighting for a possible place.

— Gabbert had a tougher time in Game 2, but part of that was the blocking, which didn’t hold up all that well. Gabbert took four sacks. That can’t happen, either with him or with the line.

— Did we mention that DT Robert Nkemdiche is playing well? He did again Saturday — he blew up a third-and-1 play for the Raiders, and was in the middle of stuffing the Raiders on the very next fourth down try — and you can see the confidence is feeding into his upswing. If he plays well, the line will be fine, even post-Calais.

OK, it’s midnight. Cards are off Sunday and back to training camp practice Monday.


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