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Wilks’ QB input: “A whole lot”

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2018 – 3:30 pm

Steve Wilks, who makes it clear of his conviction in whatever he might be talking about, took a few questions today prior to an open interview session with his offensive assistants. One of the questions was a very basic one, especially for a head coach with a defensive background: How much input will you have on the decision for the next quarterback?

“Have a lot of input in it,” Wilks said. “A whole lot.”

“We’re going to work together to make sure we bring the right guy in here,” Wilks added. “Coaches are watching tape and evaluating as well. (GM) Steve Keim and myself are constantly talking and communicate about our gameplan of what we want to do. Anyone coming on this roster I will have a definite input and major factor in bringing them in.”

That Wilks would have a large say isn’t a surprise, especially after Keim and Michael Bidwill talked during the coaching search that having such QB input was one of the selling points to a candidate. There is little question, however, how strongly Wilks feels about the process and his place in it.


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In one way, “new” additions already here

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2018 – 12:07 pm

A couple of weeks ago, David Johnson randomly sent out a tweet about the Cards’ injury issues last season.

The list was pretty long by the end of the year, and encompassed a lot of key players. Johnson, linebacker Markus Golden, tackles D.J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer, guard Mike Iupati, safeties Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea, quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Adrian Peterson among them. Some were hurt later in the season, mitigating their absence.

But what has struck me about the notion isn’t what it did to 2017, because that’s been covered in-depth and is moot now, but what it means in 2018. In particular, the return to health of the first three names on the list in particular — Johnson, Golden and Humphries — is essentially key additions when the Cards didn’t really have them for most of the season. Johnson was hurt in the first game. Humphries played only five total games because of two different knee injuries. Golden didn’t even finish the fourth game with his knee injury.

All have been rehabbing, and all are confident of their return this season (All happen to be the top three picks of the Cardinals’ 2015 draft, as well.) To be able to “add” a running back who has proven he can gain 2,000 scrimmage yards in a season, or a pass rusher who has proven he can collect 12 sacks means something. I know Humphries engenders a lot of different opinions thus far, but the Cardinals are convinced he is evolving into a top-flight tackle.

Obviously, they have to avoid getting injured again. And injuries happen to every team — it just depends on who and for how long. But when assessing what the 2018 Cardinals can look like, getting key parts for (hopefully) a full season should be part of the perspective.


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Waiting to see the offensive philosophy

Posted by Darren Urban on February 21, 2018 – 9:50 am

Within a month or two of Bruce Arians taking over as coach in 2013, he made known some very specific thoughts he had on the offense: He was going to take six shots or so downfield every game, he didn’t like having a fullback, tight end was more of a blocker in his offense. As the Cardinals transition into the Steve Wilks era, those are the questions that will be interesting to see play out.

To begin with, Wilks, with his defensive background, could very well lean on offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s thoughts on whatever subject may come up. McCoy was actually asked specifically about a fullback during his press conference; he said if it fit what they were going to do with the offense, he’d have one. Ultimately, it feels like there are a lot of different ways this can go.

The reason, of course, is that the Cardinals need to find a quarterback, and that QB will help dictate the direction the Cardinals will be headed. The coaches also need to determine if, in the case of using a fullback at times, if that fits with what David Johnson can do well. Will a tight end be more involved in the passing game (or does the role Larry Fitzgerald has been playing serve as that tight end-esque spot — assuming Fitz is still used in the same way as the last few years?) These answers also could impact what kind of offensive linemen the Cardinals want to have in place.

One of the selling points the Cardinals used when looking for a new coaching staff was the ability to help figure out the next quarterback. When it comes to the offense, the QB is only the first domino.


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Larry Fitzgerald’s return, and what it means

Posted by Darren Urban on February 15, 2018 – 12:12 pm

Fitz’s future remains on the field.

We know that now, after the wide receiver let his new head coach know Wednesday night and then Steve Wilks told the world Thursday morning. The speculation had been going on for weeks, and even in the times Fitz talked about it, he sounded like someone who wasn’t ready to retire but there was always that little thought that he still might. That’s what happens when you don’t say you are playing for sure.

But that’s a question to park until next November/December (and yes, it’s going to come up again then, unless, of course, Fitz makes some definitive statement before that time.) What this news means now has a few levels to it:

— The Cardinals keep their best wide receiver. The wide receiver corps has a ton of questions around it. John Brown, Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden are scheduled to become free agents in a month. J.J. Nelson had times when he shined last season, but times when the Cards wanted more consistency. Chad Williams, 2017’s third-round pick, remains a question mark. Plus there will be a new offense. The Cards need to address the position this offseason. That doesn’t change even with Fitz’s return, but his presence makes any transition that much easier.

— He made the decision before knowing who the quarterback will be, and that’s a sign of belief in the franchise, if nothing else. It’s not like the Cardinals can make any QB moves at this point. Fitz has caught passes from 17 quarterbacks in his 14 years after Blaine Gabbert joined the group last season, so he knows what it’s like to be flexible. “I’ve had some years in Arizona where things weren’t always easy, but they’ve always done a good job of addressing that position, and they’re trying to,” he said last month. Faith reigns.

— He entrusted the news to Wilks, which feels like a sign of respect. Look, Fitz doesn’t love this storyline, he doesn’t like talking about his status one way or the other (his retirement news, whenever it comes, is going to be absent a live Fitz as well, I’m guessing, since he’s all but promised as much). I’m still not sure he’s met Wilks face-to-face, even. But Fitz flew off to New Zealand and told his new coach to tell everyone, and that bodes well for the relationship.


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“Flight Plan” lands today

Posted by Darren Urban on February 14, 2018 – 10:09 am

The first episode of the Cardinals’ “Flight Plan” series comes out later today — 6 p.m. Arizona time, 8 p.m. eastern — on Facebook Watch. A reminder that you do not have to be registered to Facebook to watch the episodes. Just go to facebook.com/cardinalsflightplan and you should be able to see the videos. The episodes will also be available on azcardinals.com the day after they premiere on Facebook Watch.

The first three episodes are scheduled to post today, Feb. 28 and March 14.


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Cornerback signs with tie to Wilks

Posted by Darren Urban on February 12, 2018 – 2:52 pm

The Cardinals signed a cornerback Monday — Lou Young, who has been around since 2014 and has had stints with the Panthers, Broncos, Ravens, Redskins and Jaguars. Much of the time was spent on practice squads, and he was with Washington in the 2017 preseason before he was released and did not play anywhere else during the season.

But Young did play six games for Carolina in 2016, when Steve Wilks was the defensive backs coach, and he was with Carolina in 2015 as well. And his arrival is a reminder of how chunks of the roster often look when a new coach arrives — it’s never a surprise to see a few friendly faces brought in. It’s a natural move. When possible, coaches want to know what they are working with.

When Dennis Green was hired, one-time Vikings like cornerback Robert Tate, offensive lineman Everett Lindsay and wide receiver Chris Collins all spent at least some time in Arizona that first season. Ken Whisenhunt had guys like wide receiver Sean Morey, punter Mike Barr and tight end Tim Euhus. Bruce Arians had Drew Stanton and Jerraud Powers.

Again, it’s not necessarily a big chunk of the roster, and it doesn’t mean the Cardinals will chase lesser players just because they have a tie to a coach on staff. But as with most places of work, familiarity helps.


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Jimmy G’s deal and the benefit of a drafted QB

Posted by Darren Urban on February 8, 2018 – 2:13 pm

The news broke Thursday that the 49ers were signing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year extension worth around $137 million with hefty guarantees (I’ve seen one report of $74M, and another for $90M, so …) It isn’t a surprise that the Niners would pay up for Jimmy G, because that was inevitable once he played well down the stretch. San Francisco has lots of cap room and it would make sense to front-load a big deal, because they can absorb it (we will have to wait and see on the structure), and besides, it became clear he was definitely going to be the Niners’ long-term QB.

Now, of course, we’ll see the trickle down effect on more accomplished quarterbacks, like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and even Kirk Cousins as they all wait for their next contracts. But bigger picture, it illustrates the potential impact of being able to find that young (i.e. drafted) quarterback that can hopefully help you sooner rather than later, as opposed to getting one established but much more expensive. The Niners, with a ton of cap room, are likely fine for now. But it’s why the Seahawks ascended to where they were for a few years when Russell Wilson was on a rookie deal, why the Cowboys can (should?) contend with Dak Prescott on a cheaper deal and why even the Rams and Eagles are in good spots even with highly drafted QBs. Jimmy G, because his “bargain” years were used up on the bench behind Tom Brady, will never provide such a lift in roster-building.

It’s also why teams needing QBs — like the Cardinals, for instance — benefit from finding someone in the draft. Do that, and the money can be spent elsewhere in trying to create a true contender.


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Palmer to reserve/retired as QB question lingers

Posted by Darren Urban on February 6, 2018 – 11:33 am

As the speculation bounces on a daily basis about what the Cardinals will do at quarterback, the big reason it’s a question — Carson Palmer’s retirement — got an official designation Monday when the team placed him on the reserved/retired list. It’s a formality, really, since Palmer is the type that wouldn’t have made such a decision unless he knew for sure. Still, it’s prudent to leave a retired player on a reserve list rather than just cut him loose. (It’s been popular for some to speculate that Palmer could be talked out of retirement, but that’s not going to happen.)

In terms of the QB search, there is so much time before anything can truly happen. The new league year — meaning free agency and trades — isn’t until March 14, so more than a month away. As Kansas City and Washington showed, talks can be ongoing and deals can be figured out between teams, but nothing can be finalized. There is a lot of chatter about Nick Foles and whether the Eagles could deal him, but I keep wondering about the health of Carson Wentz and the risk of not having a good backup in place.

Chances are good that the next five weeks or so are going to be filled with guesswork about a quarterback with no way to really know the answer. That doesn’t even include the draft speculation, and the draft isn’t until April 26. That’ll be a little different — because the Cardinals have a new coach, the players and coaches are back to work April 2 and the conversation can be a little more than speculative at that point. Until then, though, what’s filling the void is mostly wondering aloud.


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Fitz timeline: Decision likely “in a week or two”

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2018 – 1:32 pm

Larry Fitzgerald has been in front of the media for a number of days in the past week, and as it worked out last year, the resolution of what Fitz plans to do is slowly coming to a completion about a month after the season. Wednesday, Fitz said he wasn’t thinking about the quarterback situation. Friday, he said the QB situation matters, although he continued to step around whether he would return in 2018 or retire.

Sunday, before the Super Bowl, the wide receiver went on NFL Network, and finally gave a definitive timeline for the first time of when the decision will come. It will be before the Cardinals figure out who their 2018 quarterback will be, although Fitzgerald still seemed hesitant to talk much about it.

“It’s all hypothetical,” Fitzgerald said. “I haven’t made any definitive decisions. I’ll be ready in about a week or two.”

He continued to say he is “excited” about Steve Wilks and the new coaching staff, adding that he looked forward to getting to know Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy more.


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Larry Fitzgerald says he isn’t thinking about QB

Posted by Darren Urban on February 1, 2018 – 10:35 am

Larry Fitzgerald’s long round at Wednesday’s Waste Management Phoenix Open pro-am created a time crunch at the end of the day because Fitz had a flight to catch to his home state of Minnesota and the current Super Bowl festivities in which he is now taking part. That meant he had to forego interview requests as he hustled off the course.

There would have been questions about whether he will play this season, questions that Fitz at this point would likely have left unanswered. There was one detail I did get to briefly ask about before he climbed in his car — Do you have to know who the quarterback will be in order to make your decision?

“I haven’t thought about any of that stuff, seriously,” Fitzgerald said.

UPDATE: Fitz was thinking about it a couple of days later at the Super Bowl.

Earlier this week, new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said that in his short conversation Fitzgerald was “excited” about the new staff. Both friend Kurt Warner and Fitzgerald’s father have been quoted of late saying they don’t know what Fitzgerald will do but believe he will play. Teammate Patrick Peterson, also golfing Wednesday, was of similar mindset.

“We don’t talk football once the season is over, but my gut feeling is he’ll be back,” Peterson said. “He’s playing too well to hang it up.”


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