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Cardale Jones, Logan Thomas and developing QBs

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2015 – 3:27 pm

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones — who just led the Buckeyes to a national championship but has played just three games — held a press conference today to say he was staying in school and not coming out for the draft, which was a possibility. Ohio State has, right now, all three of its QBs from this year returning next season (although that could change) and there is no lock that Jones will get to start. He was third-string to start the season, after all.

But even with only three games under his college belt, I can understand why someone could think about coming out to the NFL. There is the current and longstanding debate about college athlete compensation, which isn’t the case if you go pro. More importantly, there are the devastating injuries suffered by Marcus Lattimore and Todd Gurley and the two OSU QBs in front of him — Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett — that would make a kid think twice about staying in school when you can get paid to have the same injury risk on the next level.

The idea of Jones coming out, though, made me think of Logan Thomas.

The situations are not completely parallel. Thomas was in school for a long time and played plenty, and Jones — now that he’s returning — still gets that opportunity. But Thomas, like Jones, needs development. That was the book on Thomas when he came out and that’s what Bruce Arians continues to say. Many have asked what kind of progress Thomas made during the regular season and the reality is, it wasn’t much. Even Arians acknowledged that late in the year, one of the reasons Thomas didn’t get playing time despite the Cardinals’ QB situation.

Once training camp ends, it’s the starting quarterback who gets the practice reps. The few leftovers go to No. 2. Yes, Thomas gets reps as the scout team QB, but that’s running plays from another team and there’s only so much you can get from that. Yes, you can work on some fundamentals, but that only gets you so far. There is only so much progress you can make in that situation. It’s the great QB conundrum for  young quarterbacks. You have to play a lot to get good, usually, and unless you are good, teams don’t want to play you a lot.

That’s what I thought of when it was possible Jones would come out. He’d be so raw, who’s going to play him early? How would he get that experience that he’ll not get (in theory) by staying in school? It’s a big reason why it’s tough to find a quarterback these days, because the time and games needed to properly develop a guy simply aren’t available.

LoganCardale


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Waiting for a new defensive coordinator

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2015 – 3:40 pm

The coaches’ offices are dark right now, not a surprise at this time in the offseason. But there is still work to do and moves to be made for Bruce Arians, now that Todd Bowles is headed to be the Jets’ head coach.

(Which, interestingly, still has yet to be officially announced at 3:40 p.m. Arizona time here on Wednesday. UPDATE: Twenty minutes later, it is.)

Bowles is expected to bring Cardinals’ inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell with him for his staff, and there is a chance he also brings along someone else, like defensive assistant Ryan Slowik. So there very well could be a couple of coaching staff openings Arians will have to fill when this all filters out. But for now, the focus is on the coordinator spot Bowles is vacating. All season, Bowles was trending toward getting a head coaching job somewhere, so when Arians said late in the season he had a plan in place to replace Bowles, that certainly wasn’t a surprise.

That was before Dick LeBeau left the Steelers. Arians has talked to LeBeau about a job, and when you connect the dots, it does make sense to have LeBeau in a Tom Moore-esque role and to hire a defensive coordinator, as reports suggest. It also rings true to me that Arians would look to his existing defensive staff to find his defensive coordinator, although who that would be remains a guess. There is also a question of whether LeBeau would want to move, at age 77, this far away from his Ohio-based family.

(LeBeau’s potential arrival does make for other interesting questions, even if he isn’t DC. Darnell Dockett, for instance, didn’t love the scheme of former DC Ray Horton, who was a LeBeau disciple.)

I know many want to know what this all means for the Cardinals in terms of scheme. If the Cardinals stay in-house, does the defense simply echo what Bowles had been doing all along? Is it tweaked and if so, how much? I’m sure Arians has already thought these things through already. With empty offices right now, we’ll see how quickly this all comes together.

Dick LeBeau, Mike Tomlin, Bruce Arians


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Fitzgerald: “Hopefully we can get something done”

Posted by Darren Urban on January 13, 2015 – 3:00 pm

Larry Fitzgerald said before the season he knew something had to be done with his $23.6 million salary cap number for 2015. The wide receiver didn’t talk about it specifically during the season — or right after the Cardinals were eliminated in the playoff loss at Carolina — but his mindset clearly hasn’t changed.

“This is the only place I have ever played,” Fitzgerald said during a Tuesday appearance on ESPN’s “NFL Live.” “I have enjoyed my time in Arizona. Working for the Bidwill family has been great, playing for the Cardinals. Hopefully we can get something done. The business part of football is not something I always enjoy, but it’s something we need to address.”

The question posed to Fitzgerald was whether he would be playing for the Cardinals this season, and obviously (and smartly) Fitzgerald didn’t answer it directly. He wouldn’t want to give up any leverage he has during contract talks. But there remains optimism around the team that there can be something worked out to keep the multi-time Pro Bowler around. Either way, with the Super Bowl descending on Arizona very soon, my guess is this isn’t the last time Fitzgerald speaks on the subject.

Fitzaddressblog

 


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Bucannon all-rookie at position he still must play

Posted by Darren Urban on January 13, 2015 – 1:28 pm

He was a safety even though he wasn’t a safety, and that’s how he was recognized.

The Pro Football Writers of America came out with it’s all-Rookie team for 2014, and Deone Bucannon was named — along with Green Bay’s Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix – as one of the safeties on the team. Bucannon had 75 tackles, a couple of sacks and a fumble recovery this season. Obviously, as has been well-documented, Bucannon played almost every defensive snap he had this season as a linebacker in the nickel defense.

He’ll be at safety sooner rather than later. That’s what he believes, and that’s the intent for the Cardinals. His role this season was a perfect example of what defensive coordinator Todd Bowles (soon-to-be-head-coach of the Jets, perhaps?) did to use the personnel he had at his disposal. The Cards did not have an obvious replacement for suspended linebacker Daryl Washington in that sub-package (Larry Foote took Karlos Dansby’s place) and with safeties like Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson and Tyrann Mathieu also available, Bucannon became the choice to be Washington’s 2014 stand-in. Because so many teams use multiple receiver sets, Bucannon was on the field more than he was not with the Cards often in their nickel look.

Once the Cardinals recalibrate their linebacker position, Bucannon should slide back to safety (and it’ll also be interesting, if Bowles leaves and there is a different defensive coordinator, how the new guy works his nickel defense anyway.) Regardless, General Manager Steve Keim looks like his draft day move to trade down seven spots worked out well, with the Cardinals still able to draft Bucannon (and passing on a chance at Clinton-Dix) and picking up the extra draft pick that turned into wide receiver John Brown.

Buc1


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Bowles, the Falcons and LeBeau availability

Posted by Darren Urban on January 12, 2015 – 9:50 am

Rex Ryan is the Bills coach, the Seahawks are favorites to return to the Super Bowl (and thus extend their season another three weeks) and now is the time when teams without head coaches begin to get a little antsy when it comes to their coaching vacancies. So it’s probably no surprise that, with Ryan choosing Buffalo, Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has reportedly become the front-runner for the opening to coach the Atlanta Falcons.

Bowles was said to have had a good interview with the Falcons over the weekend. There are ties there to the man now charged to run the football side — Scott Pioli — since Pioli is Bill Parcells’ son-in-law and Bowles coached under Parcells in both Miami and Dallas. More importantly, Bowles is a defensive mind for a team that needs to upgrade on the defensive side. For Bowles, the Falcons’ job would have to be as attractive as any, given the softness of the divison (for now) and the fact he has a quarterback (Matt Ryan) in place. It’s not often you can walk into a head coaching job with a good QB already there; that’s usually why there is an opening in the first place.

We’ll see if that plays out. (The Falcons are not only getting Bowles for a second interview, but so are the Jets.)

But if it does, what then for the Cardinals? Bruce Arians has already said he has a plan in place if Bowles left. That was a plan put together before the startling news this weekend that Dick LeBeau was resigning as defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a move that initially sure gave off similar vibes as when the Steelers announced Bruce Arians was “re-fired” once upon a time. (In hindsight, B.A. loves that story.) As soon as the LeBeau story hit, the questions came: If Bowles leaves, does Arians — who worked with LeBeau all those years in Pittsburgh — replace Bowles with LeBeau?

There are a lot of things that go into this. LeBeau made it very clear he was resigning but not retiring. At 77, is LeBeau what Arians wants for his staff (although, obviously with Tom Pratt and Tom Moore, the age itself isn’t an issue). Does the Cards’ personnel fit what LeBeau would want to do? More importantly, how crucial did Arians see his previous moves to fill Bowles’ spot had Bowles’ left? (Was there a promotion coming in-house?)

It would be interesting, however, after how badly former coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted to lure LeBeau to the Cardinals once upon a time (in 2011, back when Ray Horton ended up the choice), if LeBeau finally did make it to the Cards long after Whisenhunt was gone.

First, though, Bowles has to take a job elsewhere, which still isn’t a sure thing.

UPDATE: A report from Pittsburgh says Arians has already spoken to LeBeau about joining the Cardinals.

Todd Bowles


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Fitz, his contract and the Super Bowl firing line

Posted by Darren Urban on January 8, 2015 – 1:08 pm

The “deadline,” such that it is, comes on the fifth day of the NFL’s league year — which begins March 10 at 2 p.m. Arizona time. That’s when, if Larry Fitzgerald is still on the Cardinals’ roster and still has his current contract in place, he is owed $8 million. That’s the real date at which everyone is focused to see what happens with the wide receiver and whether he stays with the Cardinals and if so, what kind of contract he has.

GM Steve Keim has long acknowledged he has had ongoing discussions with Fitzgerald’s agent about redoing the contract and fixing that bloated $23.6 million salary cap number Fitz carries with him. There have been a couple of reports out there that the conversations toward a new deal have been positive. That’s good, although as we all know, something like this isn’t done until it’s done, and just because someone hasn’t hung up on someone else doesn’t guarantee anything.

Still, you start to think about that March deadline, and one other potentially artificial one: Super Bowl week.

Fitzgerald is usually a regular on radio row at Super Bowl week. Whether it’s for the company EAS or someone else for which he might be a spokesman, that’s the week where the sponsors want to capitalize on having the big name doing their work. When Fitz does a bunch of TV and radio interviews heading into the NFL’s biggest game, he’s answering a lot of questions.

And while Fitz always handles himself and his answers like a pro — he’s really, really good at that part of his job — it’s not always his favorite thing to talk about the more controversial of subjects (like, in years past, the chaotic quarterback situation with the Cardinals.) So what happens when he sits down for interview after interview and the first (and probably not the only) question he is asked is about whether he’ll be a Cardinal? His contract situation, which I know he’d rather not talk about, could end up taking up the entire segment.

(Except for the one EAS question at the very end, right?)

I’m not saying anything is going to get done with the Cardinals and Fitzgerald by Super Bowl week — to me, the only thing that would be done that quickly would be a way to keep him in Arizona, because a trade can’t happen until March 10 and they aren’t releasing him at that point — just because he’ll be doing some interviews. But it’s something to think about.

FitzTalkBlog


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Warner to help … Kaepernick

Posted by Darren Urban on January 7, 2015 – 8:20 am

It’s still an unknown who the 49ers head coach will be post-Harbaugh, but we do know now who will be coaching struggling quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the short-term. And it’s … Kurt Warner.

The former Cardinals quarterback will be tutoring Kaepernick here in the Valley, no less, as Niners beat guy Matt Barrows reported. it’ll be at EXOS, formerly Athletes Performance Institute. It’s not altogether odd, seeing that Warner can help a bit without a) leaving home and b) getting too deep into coaching. Ever since Warner retired I’ve gotten hit with questions from fans of why Warner wouldn’t be asked to join the coaching staff, but Warner never had any interest in putting in the hours required to be an NFL coach. He’s got more important things to do in his life with his charities and his family, and coaching eats up far too much time. This scenario is much more reasonable.

Of course, it also means Warner is trying to help improve the quarterback of a Cardinals’ rival. So that could sting down the road. Barrows writes that Warner (and former journeyman pro QB Dennis Gile) won’t try and fix Kaepernick. Instead, “Warner will be on hand a few days each week to work with Kaepernick on film study, charting plays (so-called ‘board work’), seven-on-seven drills and other mental aspects of the game.”

UPDATE: Warner talked about the offer on the Tiki and Tierney Show Thursday morning on CBS Radio, acknowledging he has heard from fans of both the Cardinals and Rams disappointed he is helping a 49ers quarterback.

“I put the offer out there to a lot of young guys and Colin is the first one that really reached out and said, ‘If you have a little bit of time for me, I’d love to work together,’” Warner said. “People can say what they want. I’m more about helping that young man become all he can be. Do I want the Cardinals to win games? Of course I do. Do I want the Rams to win? Yeah. But I want all these guys to push that envelope and if I can help in any way, I’m happy to do it.”


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Free agency looms big — next year

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2015 – 4:21 pm

I have posted my annual roster breakdown, where you can see (right here) where everyone of note on the current roster stands in terms of how long their contract runs — at least right now, before guys are released or extended or otherwise restructured. If you want to see the details of this year’s free-agent concerns, here’s my story on that. But one of the things you notice when you peruse the list of players is just how many guys have their contracts expire after the 2015 season.

By my count, it’s 25 guys, and while that will most certainly change by this time next year — a rookie class will push some of those guys off the roster, for instance — it’s something to watch as General Manager Steve Keim maneuvers through this offseason. Many of these players are up so soon because they were found off the street or as undrafted rookies and had shorter-term contracts. But, at least for now, here are some of the names that are scheduled to be up after 2015:

— DT Darnell Dockett
— QB Drew Stanton
— WR Michael Floyd (who does have a 2016 team option)
— C Lyle Sendlein
— T Bobby Massie
— DE Frostee Rucker
— LB Matt Shaughnessy
— CB Justin Bethel
— CB Jerraud Powers
— S Rashad Johnson
— S Tony Jefferson

Again, I don’t expect all of them to remain on that schedule. The Cardinals will make an attempt to extend some of them. Others could be released as the normal roster overhaul takes place. But this is the way a team clears cap space and doesn’t get into cap problems, like Keim has worked to try and do. It means there are few real long-term deals. And more work every offseason.

behtelblog


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Bowles will be busy this week

Posted by Darren Urban on January 5, 2015 – 2:59 pm

Now that the Cardinals’ season is over, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can begin interviewing with various teams for their head coaching spots. And it sounds like that will make this a busy week.

Multiple reports have Bowles interviewing with the Jets on Wednesday, the Falcons Thursday, the 49ers on Friday and the Bears on Saturday. There are still rumblings that the Bills and Raiders could still ask to interview too. Either way, Bowles would seem to be a good chance to be promoted before too long, but after he signed his extension (which gave him a hefty raise) Bowles can afford to be choosy — which he was always going to be anyway. That’s just who Bowles is.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed both ways,” coach Bruce Arians joked Monday, on one hand hoping his friend and former player gets a head coaching gig and on the other hoping he stays in place.

We still don’t know who would be Arians’ choice to succeed Bowles as defensive coordinator (on staff, could it be Mike Caldwell? James Bettcher? Someone else?) but Arians has said a plan is in place. Now we wait for Bowles to go through the interview process.

Bowlesblogupdate


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Cardinals are drafting 24th

Posted by Darren Urban on January 5, 2015 – 8:36 am

The end of the season, given the playoff loss, brings talk of everything offseason for the Cardinals. That includes the draft (the particulars of which I’m probably not going to discuss much until we get to Scouting combine time in mid-February.) After going 11-5, the Cardinals will draft 24th, the last of all the Wild Card round losers.

The 20 non-playoff teams go first, of course. Then comes the Bengals, who were 10-5-1 in the regular-season, at 21, Steelers (11-5) at 22 and Lions (11-5) at 23 before the Cards choose at 24. It actually moves the Cardinals up three spots in the draft had the draft selection been based on records (and subsequent tiebreakers) only.

Tiebreaks in draft order are based on strength of schedule only, and the better strength of schedule you have, the worse draft spot you have — the reasoning being if you built a certain record against lesser competition, you deserve a higher choice than someone who got the same amount of wins against better competition.

The Cardinals’ strength of schedule produced a .523 winning percentage. The Lions’ was .471 and the Steelers .451.

In the second round, the Cards will move up to 23rd in that round, with the Lions 22nd and the Steelers down to 24th. In the third round, the Cards will be 22nd, Steelers 23rd and Lions 24th. In the fourth round, the Cards rotate back to 24, Steelers 22 and Lions 23, and it continues for the balance of the draft.


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