Fitzgerald lends hand to Russell Westbrook

Posted by Darren Urban on March 3, 2018 – 10:58 am

Larry Fitzgerald is a basketball fan, and often watches the Suns from courtside seats. Friday night, he also got involved. When the Thunder were playing the Suns, star Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook ended up on his back and sliding hard into the sideline right where Fitz was sitting. Fitzgerald eventually helped Westbrook up, although Westbrook didn’t really acknowledge Fitz’s gesture. (He looked perturbed he ended up there in the first place.

After the game, however, Westbrook did compliment Fitzgerald’s effort.

“That’s once in a lifetime that I get helped up by a great athlete like himself and an exceptional football player and a good friend,” Westbrook said.

It’s remarkable sometimes how all these excellent athletes end up friends. There is obviously a kinship when these pro stars reach a certain level. Fitzgerald, if you hadn’t seen, also had a chance to play some golf with Tiger Woods recently.

Once again, as we wait for football to fully gear up again, it’s about the hoops.

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QBs make a good impression at the podium

Posted by Darren Urban on March 2, 2018 – 3:25 pm

There are almost always “important” media interview sessions here at the Scouting combine. Most of the time it has to do with players with potential red flags. Any position can be represented — think Vontaze Burfict, Manti Te’o or even Tyrann Mathieu — but many times, it has to do with the quarterback. That’s the position that leads most often, and the one the gets the most scrutiny. Ryan Mallett was grilled in Indy, as was Cam Newton. Johnny Manziel too.

I remember back in 2006, not knowing much about a Vanderbilt quarterback who was gaining steam as a prospect, and after his session, thinking if I was the Cardinals I’d be wary. Jay Cutler could play, but he definitely gave off a lousy vibe.

Friday, the quarterbacks all talked. All the top guys have some kind of scrutiny. But after getting a chance to hear all of them, all left good impressions, albeit in different ways. Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson definitely showed the most personality, with Mayfield coming strong with his confidence he will be the best QB and emphasizing he will be honest with whatever missteps he might have made. “I want teams to know what they are getting,” he said.

Jackson could only chuckle at the idea he might be asked to move to receiver. “Man, I thought I did pretty good at quarterback,” he said with a smile. (He did.) He said no teams have talked to him about a position switch but it doesn’t matter, because he isn’t going anywhere. The other top guys — Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen — were solid themselves. Nothing flashy, but they didn’t come across poorly.

Of course, it’s the interview process with the teams behind closed doors that will ultimately mean more. But teams do pay attention to how these players handle their business in front of the cameras. That box has been checked.

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Being “aggressive” in the search for QB

Posted by Darren Urban on March 1, 2018 – 6:49 am

It’s the buzzword that the Cardinals — and many teams — use this time of year: “Aggressive.”

It came up with both GM Steve Keim and coach Steve Wilks here at the Scouting combine, when both were asked what exactly it meant when they said they were going to be aggressive in their pursuit of a quarterback.

“When you don’t have one, there is no other way,” Keim said, and that’s hard to argue.

Still, both men described being aggressive pretty much the same way they have been talking about the quarterback search in general.

“We will have plans in place for free agency, but again, a trade option potentially, and the draft, it’s all three because we don’t have any on the roster currently,” Keim said. “Whether we are going to keep two or three, we’re going to have to have someone that’s experienced,  and you’d like to be able to take a young guy and develop him.”

Wilks was a little more specific.

“What I mean by aggressive right here is when free agency starts, we’re going to try to get the best one, not only have a plan A but a plan B and a Plan C,” he said. “You also have to look at trades. And then, there’s the draft. We’re sitting at 15. Do we feel there is a guy we have to move up for? All those things come into play when I talk about being aggressive, not sitting back.”

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The new “Flight Plan” episode drops

Posted by Darren Urban on February 28, 2018 – 8:37 am

The newest episode of the Cardinals’ docu-series “Flight Plan” will be posted tonight on Facebook Watch. The second installment — titled “Mobilizing”– will go up at 6 p.m. The focus will be on the scouts and the annual trip to the Senior Bowl, especially to look at the quarterbacks. There’s also the moment Steve Wilks announces in a radio interview that Larry Fitzgerald is coming back to play this season.

“Flight Plan” is posted every couple of weeks. It can be seen on (you do not need a Facebook account) and as it worked last time, the episode will be posted on Thursday at 6 p.m.


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Work to do in Indy

Posted by Darren Urban on February 27, 2018 – 5:17 pm

Another Scouting combine is here. It’s shockingly warm here in Indianapolis — I’ve never taken my usual drugstore trip upon arrival wondering if I even needed the light jacket I was wearing — but the rest is the same as usual. The Cardinals’ braintrust speaks to the media Wednesday (7:45 a.m. Arizona time for Steve Wilks and 9:30 a.m. for Steve Keim), and footage shot the rest of this week will end up in one of the episodes of the Flight Plan docu-series. We will also record a special Cardinals Underground podcast Wednesday afternoon, and we will have a series of articles not only the balance of this week but also into next week based around Indy information.

By the time the combine ends, we’ll be within a week of free agency (at least the “tampering” front end.) Here, the quarterbacks have their media responsibilities on Friday and then get to the field Saturday as the draft process ramps up for that position.

But as Keim has said multiple times — and as Wilks also believes — it’s the interviews that ultimately are the most crucial here in Indy (along with the medical checks.) Keim said recently that “maybe you need to take a player who is less talented who loves it a little more.” That definitely makes the face-to-face talks crucial.

Check back here often for all the updates.



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Tyrann Mathieu’s game-winner on the hardwood

Posted by Darren Urban on February 26, 2018 – 10:31 am

Basketball is a popular topic in NFL locker rooms — in part because many of these athletes believe they could have had a second professional calling in hoops. Some are clearly dreaming. Others can play a bit. (Kurt Warner, who still holds pickup games at his house, was once invited to play at the White House by then-President Obama.)

This weekend, Tyrann Mathieu — who often plays pickup and sometimes invites the public to come play in games at the local gym he frequents — had video proof he can play a little (as he has mentioned once or a few times.) Taking part in a charity game, Mathieu makes a couple of impressive crossover moves before drilling the game-winning three-pointer. If nothing else, it’s always good to see Mathieu moving around well on knees that have had their share of rough moments, ACL-wise.

More importantly, to have video evidence of his basketball prowess will no doubt be used as leverage in the locker room whenever the debate about who the top baller on the Cardinals might be.

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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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