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Friday before the Texans, as #CardsCamp ends

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2016 – 4:11 pm

Training camp is over. Bruce Arians was happy with it and major injuries were avoided (although Arians was a little incredulous that was brought up Friday.) Now they head to Houston for the third preseason game against the Texans as the offense in particular tries to have a consistent outing.

First, though, a look back at camp. Arians said the only starting job still undecided is the cornerback spot opposite Patrick Peterson. That means, barring someone from the outside, both D.J. Humphries and A.Q. Shipley have solidified their jobs as right tackle and center, respectively. As for the cornerback, it feels like it’ll be tough for Bethel or Mike Jenkins to dislodge Brandon Williams unless it comes quickly. Jenkins would have to completely outplay the others to get the nod, because if it’s close, the Cards figure to go young when they can.

It was a long camp, but there was the week in San Diego, and we’ll see if Arians can make good on his wish to practice against two different teams in training camp 2017. But that’s a long way off.

— Arians said there were no surprises other than the guys already talked about. That includes wide receiver Chris Hubert, tight end Troy Niklas, Jenkins of late, even rookie guard Cole Toner, who held up when he took first team reps during those days when Mike Iupati and Antoine McClain were hurt.

— Speaking of which, here are azcardinals.com’s “awards” for training camp.

— Fourth-string QB Jake Coker, who has struggled in practice, won’t make the trip to Houston because of a sore knee. But Arians indicated Coker will make the first round of cuts Monday since he said Coker would be back for the Broncos’ game next week. Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton will get the chunk of the work against the Texans. We’ll see how much Matt Barkley does to finish up.

— Arians guesstimated there are about eight roster spots not yet determined, for about 20 different players. Not sure if that includes the very specific long-snapper job, for which Cam Kanaday and Daniel Dillon remain close.

— Palmer, talking about the length of the four-game preseason: “I’m torn on it.”

“You need those games to see who you want on your team,” Palmer said. {You can’t just do it in practice. It has to be in live tackling situations and special teams and all those things.”

The fourth game against Denver, of course, will have most of the Cardinals’ key players sitting out altogether. That’s why the Texans game looms large for the main players on the roster in terms of a tune-up.

— Earl Watford, who banged up his knee pretty good a couple of weeks ago, has been back at practice. His is an important situation, because he figures to make the team as the sixth offense lineman, able to play any position when he is active on game day. Arians said he wants to see Watford have one more “solid week” of practice, especially at tackle. Why is that important? Because there is still a chance it will be Watford who would be the replacement tackle if Veldheer or Humphries gets hurt.

— Anxious to see Robert Nkemdiche in his first game Sunday. He can be good, it looks like. How quickly he can be good is up to him.

EndCampBlog


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No rush for “mindful” Tyrann Mathieu

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2016 – 8:38 am

All along, Tyrann Mathieu has preached patience.

The safety has been encouraged with his progress coming back from his ACL tear, and still hopes to be on the field when the Cardinals play the Patriots Sept. 11. But as good as Mathieu has done in practice, he is clearly cautious.

“I wouldn’t say I’m ready to play a full game,” Mathieu said. “I still feel like I have a ways to go.”

Mathieu recently estimated himself around 80 percent, and this summer, talked about how he wanted to be 100 percent before playing, with a nod to how much he struggled at the outset of the 2014 season when he was coming off another (albeit much worse) ACL tear. Coach Bruce Arians said there is still a chance for the PUP guys — Mathieu, cornerback Justin Bethel and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker — could play in Houston Sunday. As for Mathieu in particular, he is “not necessarily cutting it loose” in practice, Arians said. “I’d like to see him in game action, but that doesn’t mean I have to see him.”

Listening to Mathieu, an appearance now seems doubtful. Realistically, this would be the one opportunity — it’s hard to imagine someone at the top of the roster playing in the fourth preseason game, much less someone coming off a significant injury.

“Your passion tends to override being mindful of where you are at in your recovery,” Mathieu said. “As long as I stay mindful of that, as long as people around me stay mindful of that, I think I’ll be all right.”

UPDATE: Mathieu did not practice Friday, but Arians said he expected the three PUP players to play “10, maximum 12 plays.”

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Arians: Sideline video “helps bad coaches”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2016 – 1:47 pm

The NFL is testing out the ability to use Microsoft tablets and video on the sidelines, seeing what it could mean for the future of the game. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians noted they had them in the first preseason game against the Raiders.

“I watched one play the referee called holding and it wasn’t holding and I showed it to him,” said Arians, referring to a hold called on tight end Troy Niklas that Arians had previously complained about. The penalty negated a touchdown.

“I said (to the official) this would be your worst nightmare if I had this on the sideline,” Arians added.

That drew a chuckle in the press conference, but Arians was serious when he said he hoped video was never part of in-game use on the sideline.

“Helps bad coaches,” Arians said. “You spend six hours on a blitz (for your defense) on Tuesday, he can watch it … offensively you don’t run the same plays very often but defensively, you spend a lot of hours and time on a blitz that a guy can watch it on tape and show his guys and fix it in the first quarter.

“That’s not what it’s all about.”


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Nkemdiche shows his stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2016 – 9:02 am

There are caveats all around, from the fact he was going against non-starters on the offensive line to the fact he has fresh legs considering he has missed so much time in camp because of his ankle sprain. But Wednesday, rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche made quite the impression in one-on-one work.

It’s what everyone had been waiting to see since Nkemdiche was drafted, what was put on hold when he sprained his ankle badly back in QB School — before the team had even reported to training camp. Since then it had been a long wait. Coach Bruce Arians had said his No. 1 draft pick would be back out there Wednesday, and then the Cards instead got him in uniform Monday. That turned out to be less-than-exciting, because Nkemdiche did very little before ending his day early.

So (with Tuesday off), Wednesday again became a big day. This time, Nkemdiche was one to watch. He worked in 11-on-11 plays, locking up with 2015 No. 1 pick D.J. Humphries a couple of times. But it was when the Cardinals broke into one-on-one drills that caught many eyes, including mine. He was so quick off the ball, you understood the ankle certainly isn’t a problem anymore. He followed up with a great spin move too. (The video can be seen with this tweet.) We still have a couple of days to go, but right now I’d expect Nkemdiche to get his first preseason game work Sunday in Houston.

One practice — one drill, for that matter — does not make a player. Nkemdiche still has things to prove and learn. But as Arians said the other day, as long as he knows what gap to be in, he’ll be able to contribute. And he put on display for the first time Wednesday what his ability could mean.

NkemBlog


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Fitz: Contract about keeping good thing going

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2016 – 12:22 pm

The recent contract Larry Fitzgerald signed — keeping the wide receiver in Arizona in 2017, assuming he is still playing — wasn’t something he was looking for, but he emphasized that winning and the Cardinals’ ability to win played a role.

“It wasn’t my idea,” Fitzgerald said. “I didn’t go and stand on Steve (Keim)’s table and asked for an extension. If that’s what you’re asking, that wasn’t the case. I’m down for whatever is going to keep this thing going as long as we can.

“As you know, it goes in spurts in this league. A while back we had some teams that were pretty good, had a couple down years, and now we’re at that point where we have a really good thing going. We have a good mesh of older veteran guys and a mesh of good younger guys like Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Chandler Jones, D.J. Humphries. That’s a great blend to have.”

That wouldn’t be the only reason Fitz would want to play in 2017, but at this point in his career, it’s a must-have.

Other lunchtime stuff after a day off:

— WR Smokey Brown (headache) might not practice this afternoon. With Brown coming off a concussion, it’s something to watch.

— Fitzgerald isn’t practicing because of the slight MCL issue in his knee, but he waved off any concern. “I’m good,” he said. “I could probably go out there and be effective and do my job, but a setback now with less than two weeks to go would be less than ideal. I want to do what I can to help my team now but obviously Sept. 11 is when it really hits the fan.”

— QB Carson Palmer is getting a day off today. The injury list is pretty short right now, though. A good sign.

— Coach Bruce Arians shrugged off the idea the offense needs to get into a rhythm in a preseason game. “Not really,” he said. “I see it enough in practice.”

— Arians wouldn’t comment on the report he will be named the NFL’s competition committee. “Hasn’t been announced yet,” he said.


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If Veldheer goes down, a Humphries switch

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2016 – 10:05 am

One of the important parts of the end-of-preseason roster choices will be how the Cardinals choose to divvy up their offensive line spots. As of now we have the five starters — from left tackle across, it’ll be Jared Veldheer, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Evan Mathis and D.J. Humphries. Beyond that, you figure they keep fourth-round center Evan Boehm and Swiss Army knife lineman Earl Watford, who is still recovering from a knee injury. Does rookie guard Cole Toner stick? Guard Antoine McClain? Tackle John Wetzel? Do they add a guy?

Watford started two games at right tackle last year and is a strong possibility to play there if Humphries goes down. For now, coach Bruce Arians made it a little more clear how they would handle the backup tackle situation on the left. If Veldheer got hurt, Arians said, the move would likely be to switch Humphries — who spent his college days as a left tackle — back over to the left, and then fill in the right.

Arians also had a good line about what the Cardinals ask their offensive tackles to do.

“Block the best players on the other team,” Arians said. “That’s pretty much it. those defensive ends get paid a bunch of money. They get paid a million dollars a sack, you get paid half-a-million for 59 good blocks.”

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Ellington takes his shot at punt returns

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2016 – 10:13 am

Andre Ellington is now listed as the top kickoff and punt returner on the depth chart. The kickoff part isn’t that surprising. The punt return part is, since a) Ellington has never really done it and b) it wasn’t really a consideration when camp started. But Ellington, who finally got a chance to return one in a game in San Diego, is going to have the opportunity.

We’ll see how comfortable Ellington can get back there. This possibility has been building since the day Chris Johnson re-signed. When the three top running backs were healthy last season, David Johnson was returning kickoffs and there was a reason to have all three active on game days. Now that David Johnson is going to be the main back, he won’t be returning kickoffs — so to have all three active, someone has to play special teams. That’s not Chris Johnson. So you try and see what Ellington can do as the dual return man. (You don’t really want Patrick Peterson returning punts anymore either.)

Watching him in practice, Ellington looks very much like a work in progress. But Bruce Arians is right — if Ellington does get his hands on a punt, he’s the kind of player that fits such a return perfectly, getting the ball in space on what essentially is an extended stretch running play, in which Ellington can use his burst to blow up the field.

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Keim: “Good chance” Nkemdiche plays Sunday

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2016 – 8:16 am

The Cardinals had a bunch of players come back to practice this week, and — barring anything between then and Sunday’s third preseason game in Houston — General Manager Steve Keim said the team will be in pretty good health against the Texans.

During his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim said that, after talking to head athletic trainer Tom Reed, the Cardinals may only have “one or two” players too injured to be available for the next game. Keim also said that rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who has been out since suffering a high-ankle sprain during quarterback school work and hasn’t practice in camp, has a “good chance” to play against the Texans. Coach Bruce Arians said that Nkemdiche should be back at practice Wednesday.

Other news and thoughts from the Keim conversation:

Like Arians, Keim isn’t worried about the Cardinals or their preseason performances in terms of how they will do in the regular season. But “we need to pick up our level of urgency.” Keim said. “You can’t go out when the season starts and turn the switch on. … You can’t sleepwalk through the preseason. (Friday) was a great lesson for our players.”

— Keim told MMQB.com’s Peter King that it was a “chicken(expletive) call by me” not to take a chance on quarterback Russell Wilson in the 2012 draft, and that he “didn’t have the balls to take Russell Wilson.” Keim is constantly preaching the need to self-evaluate, and that certainly qualifies.

“He is a great learning lesson for all of us,” Keim told Arizona Sports.

— Aside from allowing a pressure on the first snap, Keim said he thought right tackle D.J. Humphries was better than his first game. Keim also liked how guard Evan Mathis played, and he likes the progress — although it’s slower — of rookie OLs Cole Toner and Evan Boehm.

— On the idea Arians would like the Cardinals to practice against another team a couple of times in next year’s training camp: “I love it,” Keim said. The Cardinals might try to visit one team for a week and host a team another week. A handful of NFL teams did that this year. Keim (and Arians) love the idea of going up against another team as a measuring stick and to break up the monotony of camp.

— Keim said potential trade talks, with the Chargers or any other team, are ongoing and usually don’t heat up until the end of the preseason.

— There is still a learning curve for rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, Keim said, but “quite frankly, I thought (his struggles) would be a little worse.” Keim is pleased with Williams’ progress thus far.


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Arians: Doomsday hasn’t arrived

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2016 – 7:29 am

Bruce Arians watched his team Friday night. And he knows the Cardinals did not play well, especially offensively. But he said this week was like any other, noting that Carson Palmer has played only about 20 plays thus far — not even a half’s work most games.

Arians also knows there is concern out there from the fan base. He matter-of-factly said while that’s expected, maybe it shouldn’t be.

“Tendency is to ‘Woe is me,’ ” Arians said. “But when our starters have played 15 plays, 20 plays maybe, that’s not even a good half. We’ve had bad halves before and come back and won games. It’s not a doomsday situation by any stretch of the imagination.”

The game in Houston this week is going to be a better and more important barometer. But with all due respect to Denny Green, it still will not be the end-all, be-all as a foretelling of the regular season, whether the Cardinals play well or play poorly.

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Smokey Brown back, Okafor will play

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2016 – 1:50 pm

Bruce Arians just spoke to the media prior to Sunday’s practice, with a lot of good injury news coming out of it (all of which will extrapolated upon later on azcardinals.com.):

— LB Alex Okafor has decided to try and play with his torn biceps muscle. Arians said it will be a matter of pain tolerance more than functional strength.

— WR John “Smokey” Brown has been cleared from concussion protocol and will return to the practice field. Needs to get in shape, but he’s finally back.

— DT Robert Nkemdiche is “close” to coming back from his bad ankle. Arians said he hopes he’s out there Wednesday. The Cards practice today and Monday and are off Tuesday.

— The PUP guys — S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Justin Bethel and DT Frostee Rucker — are back doing individual drills today and are in uniform for the first time.

— G Mike Iupati (knee) is not practicing.


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