The players have been gone for a couple of weeks. The coaches are on vacation. Now is the time for them to not think about football, since football will dominate lives when the end of July arrives.
In the meantime, it is the perfect time to speculate and predict.
As I have done for a number of years, here are my picks, in late June, of who will be the starters for the Cardinals when they begin the regular season Sept. 11 against the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.” They are the best guesses for a team that has yet to take part in training camp, yet to absorb any of the inevitable camp injuries, yet to sign anyone late as a Steve Keim blue light special.
While the Cardinals often are in some sort of sub-package, for this post we are going with the base defense. I’ll post my thoughts on the offense tomorrow (and here they are):
DT – Calais Campbell. Going into the last year of his contract, Campbell’s future with the Cardinals is fuzzy. But the Pro Bowler has played well, and the addition of Chandler Jones figures to make him better, and in a year where the Cards are going to push for a Super Bowl, he’ll be a key piece.
NT – Corey Peters. The Cards like Rodney Gunter, who was solid as a rookie. But Peters was impressing coaches before his Achilles injury last season, and I expect him to make a similar push to get back into the starting lineup by the time the season starts. Other than Campbell, the defensive line starter positions are a) up for grabs and b) part of a rotation, anyway. One caveat: This is assuming Peters is indeed all the way healthy, but coach Bruce Arians said Peters would be ready to go come camp.
DT – Frostee Rucker. Rucker missed offseason work with a foot injury, and he may not be ready right when camp opens. But assuming he doesn’t miss too much time, he figures to find his way into the lineup again. He’s been solid the last couple of seasons, and while there is youth available (Gunter, Nkemdiche, Stinson) Rucker still leads the way.
OLB – Chandler Jones. He was penciled into the lineup the day he arrived in a trade. He’ll be a three-down player.
ILB – Deone Bucannon. Last year at this time I picked Bucannon to be the starting strong safety. It was, after all, where he spent the entire 2015 offseason working. Then, when camp began, Buc was back at dollar linebacker. The Cards don’t even pretend he is anything but anymore.
ILB – Kevin Minter. He got his chance to show he could be a starter last year, and he made it work. He’ll be back in place again as he goes into the last year of his contract.
OLB – Markus Golden. When it comes to outside linebackers, Jones is the star, Alex Okafor is the former starter on the comeback trail after his dicey exit to 2015, and Dwight Freeney is the still-available free agent. Meanwhile, Golden, who was solid as a rookie, will slide into the starting spot opposite Jones. He’ll have the chance to be a nice bookend.
CB – Patrick Peterson. Yes, 2014 was mostly forgettable. Peterson couldn’t have made 2015 more memorable. That was the stud cornerback he could be, and the one the Cards are counting on going forward.
CB – Justin Bethel. There is competition, not from someone unsigned, but from the rookies. If Bethel is going to grab this job, he has to hold off raw rookie Brandon Williams. He should be able to do that.
FS – Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, I think Mathieu finds a way to be ready by “Sunday Night Football” to open the season. If not, Tyvon Branch – who will get a lot of playing time anyway – is around. The Cards need a healthy and productive Mathieu.
SS – Tony Jefferson. Branch will be in the mix too, and D.J. Swearinger will make a push, but in the end I think Jefferson finds his way on to the field first, as the Cards once again mix-and-match often their secondary. (Would I be surprised if Branch starts? Not at all.)
Tags: Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, Deone Bucannon, Frostee Rucker, Justin Bethel, Kevin Minter, Markus Golden, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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As the NFL Network’s top 100 list pulled into the top 30 Wednesday night, not one but two Cardinals made the list. Safety Tyrann Mathieu is No. 28 on the list, with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at No. 27. It is Mathieu’s first inclusion on the list, while this is the sixth time Fitzgerald has made it. Both players figured to be honored, given how they played in 2015. Heck, Fitzgerald made the list even in his down statistical years, so he was a lock to get in after a 109-catch season.
Mathieu, meanwhile, was still an all-pro even with his ACL tear. The way he has been playing, Mathieu has proved when he is healthy, he’ll be a lock for this list. He’s not only incredibly productive, but popular too all across the league (this list is voted on by players.)
The Cardinals already had two others on this year’s list: DT Calais Campbell at No. 71, and OLB Chandler Jones at No. 48. Cornerback Patrick Peterson figures to land in the top 20 — which is all that is left. Is it possible QB Carson Palmer will be in the top 20? Or will he be left off the list?
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Chandler Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, NFL Network, Tyrann Mathieu
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Already, the NFL had changed their practice squad rules, upping the number of players allowed on the unit from eight to 10. At the time, they also changed the rules so that two of the players could have up to two accrued seasons in the NFL (before, it was no more than one.) That gave teams the flexibility to put a whole host of new candidates on the practice squad, if they were to pass through waivers once they were released initially.
The rules have changed again. There are still only 10 on the PS, but now, up to four players can have two accrued seasons. That doesn’t mean there would be that many, but if a team wanted to add a veteran after training camp just in case in an effort to get him up to speed without taking up a roster spot, this provides more flexibility. It certainly gives a team the option to develop a player for a couple of years without using up a roster spot, or a guy who played a year on the roster and just isn’t ready yet. It seems to help a team like the Cardinals — which has a deep roster and figures to cut some decent players — hold on to a couple of those cuts.
Tags: practice squad, rules
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Patrick Peterson was in Los Angeles Tuesday, making the round for a couple of reasons — doing the Colin Cowherd show on FS1 and an interview with Adam Schein of Sirius XM NFL radio and NFL.com to promote the upcoming “All or Nothing” series, which will be released July 1, and also to shoot the intro video for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” (Tyrann Mathieu was also in L.A. to take part in the video, as was Carrie Underwood, of course.)
During his interview with Schein, Peterson talked about “All or Nothing” (“It will definitely shine a different light on athletes”) and the infamous quarterback bucket toss (“It’s not all about winning, it’s all about not coming in last place.”)
Then, Schein asked Peterson if he thought the Cardinals got enough respect nationally.
“We have built into that reputation,” Peterson said. “We still have a couple of years to go of some consistency, of being in the playoffs year in and year out, getting those double (digit)-win seasons. I think we can definitely get there. But the pedigree is growing into that for sure.”
Tags: Carrie Underwood, Patrick Peterson, Sunday Night Football, Tyrann Mathieu
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There were multiple things that ranked as priorities for GM Steve Keim when he first got his current job, and one of those was to build depth on the roster. On that, he has most certainly succeeded. Where might that leave the Cardinals at the end of training camp?
“We have more than 53 (players),” Arians said at the completion of minicamp. “We have 65 probably that I am comfortable with. You can’t have a bad day. Especially with certain position groups, you just can’t have a bad day. You’ll fall too far behind.”
There are still areas in which the Cards could fortify. A veteran cornerback. A veteran right tackle. If the team ends up signing one or both of those guys, then the Cards have 66 or 67 guys with whom Arians would be comfortable. It sets up the possibility of a camp trade for a late-round draft pick, but it means the Cardinals will definitely release some players who will be considered “surprises.”
So much is left to be fought before then. The defensive line was one of those overstuffed spots last training camp, but the dynamic changed considerably when Corey Peters hurt his Achilles and was lost for the season. Still, it was a mild surprise when Matt Shaughnessy was released, and someone else would have had to go had Peters stayed healthy.
What are the positions this year? Defensive line, once again. The back end of the secondary — while there is inexperience, drafting three defensive backs will make those choices intriguing. Reserve offensive linemen and outside linebackers. Arians isn’t wrong. Bad days won’t help.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Corey Peters, Steve Keim, training camp
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Like the Cardinals, the Chargers have released their training camp dates. That includes info on the one open practice in San Diego for the Cardinals, who will spend a week in San Diego prior to their preseason game there. The open practice will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at Qualcomm Stadium from 6 to 8 p.m. against the Chargers. The two teams play at Qualcomm that Friday night.
As with the practices at University of Phoenix Stadium, parking and admission will be free in San Diego.
Tags: Chargers, training camp
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While the NFL Network top 100 list continues to be counted down, profootballfocus.com has their own list of the top 101 players in the league. The site usually has a top 101 list after the season based on the season just completed. But now, they have a top 101 list of players right now based on overall body of work and with all positions being equal — meaning a good quarterback could still be behind a lineman if the lineman is exceptional.
Five Cardinals made the list: DB Tyrann Mathieu at No. 18 (PFF is one of the strongest outlets in referring to Mathieu more as a cornerback instead of a safety, since he plays so many snaps there), CB Patrick Peterson at No. 32, QB Carson Palmer at No. 40, DT Calais Campbell at No. 89 and G Evan Mathis at No. 98. Here’s a sampling of what PFF said on each:
— Mathieu: “Whether you want to call him a safety or a cornerback, Tyrann Mathieu is one of the league’s best defensive backs. He is a true playmaker on defense and has the ability to move around and cause matchup problems for offenses, putting them on the back foot for once in a league that usually forces defenses to react, not the other way around.”
— Peterson: “At his best, Patrick Peterson is one of the league’s top shutdown corners, or as close as anybody can get to that term in today’s NFL of pass-happy rules.”
— Palmer: “Palmer had the league’s highest average depth of target, and his expected inaccuracy rate given the passes he was attempting should have been the highest in the league. As it turned out, he was the best on intermediate and deep throws, and if I knew I was getting that guy in 2016, he would by vying for a place inside the top-five on this list.”
— Campbell: “While his ceiling may be some way short of J.J. Watt or Aaron Donald, he is still a major impact player on defense and capable of screwing up an offense’s plans almost single-handedly.”
— Mathis: “PFF’s affinity for Evan Mathis has been no secret over the years. He is a player that has consistently graded well when he has been on the field, and even this past season when carrying injuries and splitting time in Denver, he was one of the best-graded guards in the league, and the highest-graded run blocker.”
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Evan Mathis, Patrick Peterson, Pro Football Focus, Tyrann Mathieu
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“No risk-it, no biscuit.” Bruce Arians loves to repeat the mantra by which he coaches (and lives, but that’s another blog post). Sometimes, that causes some to fret about the chances Arians takes late in games — passes the Cardinals try that fall incomplete and stop the clock, or a shot down the field. But there is tangible proof it works.
Football Outsiders writer Scott Kacsmar tweeted out this amazing fact today: Arians, since 2012 (so including his stint coaching the Colts), is a stunning 31-1 in games where his team held a one-score lead at any point in the fourth quarter and overtime. The one loss came in Arians’ very first game as Cardinals’ coach, when the Cards had an 11-point lead going into the fourth quarter in St. Louis but eventually lost, 27-24.
It not only shows the ability of the Cardinals to play the kind of fourth-quarter offense necessary to hold on to wins but also rally (think of both wins in Seattle in 2013 and 2015.) It also underscores that the defense has made big plays to seal wins (Rashad Johnson and the secondary versus the Eagles in 2014, Tony Jefferson versus the Ravens last season come to mind.) Overall, it also shows a good team — good teams know how to win close games. The Cardinals have definitely done that.
Tags: Football Outsiders, Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson
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Former Cardinals defensive tackle Bryan Robinson, a starter on the Super Bowl team in 2008, has died, the Chicago Tribune reported. Robinson was only 41 years old. Cause of death is unknown.
Robinson, who started his career with the Rams in 1997 and became a key player on the Bears for a number of years, signed with the Cardinals in 2008. Brought in to be a veteran presence on a line that had Darnell Dockett and young linemen Calais Campbell, Alan Branch and Gabe Watson, Robinson took hold of a starting job and neither Watson nor Branch ever managed to beat him out. He started for the Cards through his final NFL season in 2010, helping the team not only to the Super Bowl but a pair of NFC West titles. He also played for the Dolphins and Bengals.
This column was one of my favorite stories I wrote about Robinson. When he arrived in Arizona, the Cards also signed an undrafted rookie defensive tackle named Bryan Robinson. Only the vet was left after training camp.
Tags: Bryan Robinson
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It’s not “Hard Knocks,” and that’s something Bruce Arians insisted upon from the start. That’s why the coach always said he didn’t want to do the HBO training camp series, because of how it showed things like players being cut — a cold way to have someone’s professional life laid bare for the world to see. Michael Bidwill agreed, although both liked some of the things “Hard Knocks” did show, like the human side of players and coaches.
In a very general way, that’s how “All or Nothing,” the story of the 2015 Cardinals, came to be.
There are still a few weeks before the series is available on Amazon. July 1 is that date (if you didn’t already know), when all eight episodes will be there on demand for everyone to see. Want to binge? Go ahead. Want to space them out? Your call. Do you prefer to watch with your kids and have the sometimes harsh words of the NFL bleeped out? There will be both unrated and edited versions.
I have only seen one episode, the seventh that chronicled the win over the Packers in the playoffs. It was, as you can imagine in something put together by NFL Films, pretty epic. The original score — which has a main theme that can be heard during the Brentson Buckner portion of the trailer — is excellent. And even though you know what will happen, to see how the emotions flowed not just for the players but others (like Arians’ wife Chris) is simply riveting television.
A couple other thoughts I had about the series, based on what we saw:
— Buckner, who is a great quote and a colorful figure, sure seems like he is going to be one of the stars.
— It reminds you of who isn’t here anymore. Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson were so important to last year’s team and this will rightfully reflect that and it’s a little weird since they are no longer on the roster.
— Carson Palmer had said that even with the mics and cameras Arians “was still B.A.” all last season and, yes, that was apparent.
— Crazy to think defensive coordinator James Bettcher specifically talked to the team about defending an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary before the game, and yet Rodgers still pulled one off.
I’m looking forward to seeing the whole series. I’m guessing it will live up to the hype.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, All or Nothing, Brentson Buckner, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, James Bettcher, Jerraud Powers, Rashad Johnson
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