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Fitz a humanitarian finalist

Posted by Darren Urban on June 14, 2017 – 12:20 pm

We already know the writers consider Larry Fitzgerald a good guy. But Fitz’s good works go well past a quote or two. That’s well documented, from his trips to foreign countries to his foundation raising money. He was named the NFL’s man of the year after all.

Now comes news that Fitz is a finalist for ESPN’s Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian award. He is up against Curtis Granderson of the Mets, golfer Ernie Els and Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames.

The award is part of a group of awards in the same vein — a team award will also be handed out, as well as a corporate award — with the Stuart Scott ENSPIRE awards. The honors will be handed out July 11.


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Pooching and the kickoff question for Dawson

Posted by Darren Urban on June 12, 2017 – 6:27 am

When the Cardinals signed veteran kicker Phil Dawson, one of the questions that came up immediately was whether he would kick off. Dawson split time with the 49ers last year with punter Bradley Pinion on the duty, and ended up with only four touchbacks. But Dawson emphasized that his low touchback count was by design and not because of an inability to kick it deep. While both the Cardinals’ current punting options — Matt Wile and Richie Leone — can and have kicked off in the past, coach Bruce Arians has said Dawson can do the job. It’s a wait-and-see situation, but Dawson wants to kick off.

Dawson said the biggest reason his touchback count was so low last year was that the coaches wanted him to pooch kickoffs. Pro Football Focus pointed out that Dawson had the greatest percentage of kickoffs between the goalline and the 5-yard line last season, at 41.5 percent. With touchbacks now coming out to the 25-yard line, a pooch-and-cover strategy makes a lot of sense. The Patriots, to name one team, did it well last year. The Cardinals went with the touchback most of the time with Chandler Catanzaro, but given special teams issues and the need to cover, that probably was a good idea. If the Cards can gather a coverage unit that can get there, Dawson could trap return men near the goal again. Yes, his touchback ratio would be lower, but if the Cards can lock down the return man inside the 25, no one will care.


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Arians delivers a soft warning

Posted by Darren Urban on June 8, 2017 – 1:25 pm

Larry Fitzgerald has already created a legacy that would look pretty nice even if he walked away from the game tomorrow, but that didn’t stop him from being angry (enough that he bellowed an expletive) for not being able to bring in a catch at one recent practice of what was basically an errant throw. That’s what you notice about Fitz, how much he works whenever he is on the practice field.

You also notice that he’s always on the practice field. He doesn’t get banged up often, not in the offseason. Not every player can say the same. It’s something Bruce Arians said he noticed when it comes to soft-tissue problems.

“He knows how to train,” Arians said of Fitz. “He’s tweaked (hamstrings), but he keeps going. He knows how to train. These young guys, they don’t know how to train when they go by themselves, or they hire somebody who trains them to run track. Not move around and hit the ground and push things. So they get soft-tissue injuries when they get to (training) camp.”

Arians said there was a “long conversation” Thursday morning on the topic with the team in their final meeting of the offseason.

“You get a soft-tissue injury this year (in camp), you’re probably going to get cut,” Arians said. “It’s just too competitive.”


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Keim looking at “6 to 8” player possibilities

Posted by Darren Urban on June 8, 2017 – 7:32 am

As minicamp wraps up today with a final practice before the veterans scatter for the summer, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said in terms of signing a veteran to help the roster, options are still on the table.

“(Team president) Michael (Bidwill) and I talked about six to eight players, who are still on the street, who could potentially come in and help us,” Keim said in an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Keim didn’t get specific, either in name or position. But he noted the obvious, based on Keim’s past veteran signings in this regard: It’s not just about a scheme fit or need, it’s also about price. The Cardinals see a value in these signings, and even if a player intrigues them, they have weighed the cost-benefit. They are only going to play “x” amount for any particular player, and they won’t blow their salary measurement out of any perceived need.

(To clarify — the Cards won’t sign as many as six or eight. That’s just the number of players that are on the radar. I’d guess some play the same position, so if one signed, the others are out. As usual, I’d anticipate one or two Keim camp specials at most, barring injuries.)

We’ve talked about this before. Maybe a cornerback makes sense (that’s the position I’d look at first). Maybe a guard if Evan Boehm doesn’t keep moving forward. Maybe a running back to fill out the room, depending on what Andre Ellington and/or Elijhaa Penny do. But to think there won’t be a signing or two around/into training camp just doesn’t do the history of Keim any justice.


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Hogan, rookies wary of visitors

Posted by Darren Urban on June 7, 2017 – 1:18 pm

Inside the Cardinals’ Tempe facility, there is a small overflow locker room next to the main locker room. It’s reason for existence is simple — with 90-man rosters, it’s impossible to house every player in the main room. It’s the spot in the offseason where all the undrafted rookies and a couple of the lower-round drafted players reside.

There isn’t a player in there who isn’t hyper-sensitive about their NFL future. Recently, someone from the front office came in to give a couple of guys the tap on the shoulder, and they were cut. The moment made a deep impression.

“Now anybody (new) who comes into that locker room, it’s like, ‘Oh man,’ ” rookie wideout Krishawn Hogan said.

So Wednesday, minicamp practice had ended. A man walked in to the room wearing dress pants and a collared Cardinals shirt.

“He came up behind me and said, ‘Hey, as soon as you’re dressed,’ ” Hogan said. For a handful of guys in the room, time froze. It got quiet. “I’m like, ‘Oh man,’ ” Hogan recounted.

The moment passed quickly. Turned out the visitor was director of media relations Chris Melvin, and he just wanted to tell Hogan he was wanted for an interview. (Media access includes the main locker room, but not the overflow version.) Hogan came out to talk to one of the local TV stations, and his heart could start again.

There was extra reason for Hogan to be wary Wednesday, having false started a couple of times in practice. Not only did he hear it from coach Bruce Arians but Arians noted it to the media afterward. “If he can count, he’s got a chance,” Arians quipped about Hogan’s opportunity to make the roster. It speaks to the tenuous nature of many of these players, even when rosters are so big. There is a vigilant eye always on the locker room door.

“I know I had some good plays out there today, but I had some plays I definitely wish I could take back,” Hogan said. “When (Melvin) came up behind me, I was just like, ‘Please, give me tomorrow.’ ”


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Holt sees some Faulk in David Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2017 – 10:22 pm

Torry Holt is helping coach the Cardinals receivers this week, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate the running game. In his years as a Pro Bowl wideout with the Greatest Show On Turf, he played with one of the greatest running backs in NFL history: Marshall Faulk. Tuesday, Holt said he could see comparisons to the Cardinals’ excellent running back, David Johnson.

“Marshall did everything, and I see (David) the same way,” said Holt (pictured below with wide receivers John Brown, left, and Marquis Bundy). “He can do a little bit of everything.”

Last year, during a brief visit to the Cardinals’ facility, former Cardinals (and Cowboys) running back Emmitt Smith compared Johnson to Bills great Thurman Thomas in terms of their all-around games. And that was before Johnson had his marvelous second season.

Johnson earns the Faulk comparison from Holt.

“He’s smooth,” Holt said. “He’s bigger than Marshall. But he can run, run between the tackles, run on the outside and he can catch. Those are where the similarities are. Again, size is different. I haven’t been in the meeting room with (Johnson) yet so I don’t know where his football IQ is. Marshall was extremely smart with the game.

“But there are some similarities in their games, particularly with catching the ball out of the backfield. (Johnson) is very smooth.”

Holt mentioned one other running back who he thought was as natural catching the ball as Faulk and Johnson — Bengals rookie Joe Mixon.


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Arians: London events “not going to scare us off”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2017 – 12:16 pm

The Cardinals play the Rams in London at Twickenham Stadium on Oct. 22, and they will be spending the week beforehand in the country practicing for the game. Obviously, London and the U.K. have been in the news with recent terrorist events, both with the concert bombing in Manchester and then the attack on London Bridge.

Coach Bruce Arians was asked if those attacks caused him any concern with taking the Cardinals on their trip.

“No,” Arians said. “With concern … Anytime you are apprehensive, and let ISIS or whoever it is change the way you think or what you do, they are winning. We’ll go and we’ll do everything we can to put on a great show. If something happens, it happens. But they’re not going to scare us off.”


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And then there were four (QBs)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 5, 2017 – 3:35 pm

Zac Dysert wasn’t out of work long. He was cut by the Cardinals Friday and then claimed off waivers by the Cowboys, it was announced by the league today. Dysert didn’t last as long as the previous third QB, Matt Barkley, in terms of seeing what he had. Barkley at least made it through training camp.

But circumstances change. One, it means that Trevor Knight, the undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M, has shown enough in this short time to impress — at least impress enough to keep him over Dysert. It also means the Cards — not surprisingly, given the praise coach Bruce Arians has delivered anytime he is asked — are happy with Blaine Gabbert thus far. Third, it means that they are good with Carson Palmer having his normal workload in training camp, even with an extra week of camp and extra preseason game.

There is context needed everywhere. I don’t expect Palmer to get a lot more preseason work, so with an extra game, there should be more preseason game reps for Gabbert, Knight and Drew Stanton. As for Stanton — and Gabbert — last week Arians said clearly that Stanton remains the No. 2 QB. I don’t expect that to change this season, but camp can always make an impact. (It won’t, IMO.) Still, QB is always a sexy position, and there will be plenty of stories of all four guys once camp starts in mid-July.


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Peterson as punt returner — again

Posted by Darren Urban on June 2, 2017 – 8:54 am

An NFL lifetime ago, when Bruce Arians was simply a good offensive coordinator with the Steelers and the Cardinals were trying to turn Kevin Kolb into their long-awaited replacement for Kurt Warner, Patrick Peterson electrified the league with his punt returns. He scored four times that season and would’ve had five, were it not for a shoe-tip trip tackle in the season finale.

Peterson’s effectiveness at punt returning hasn’t been the same since. There are plenty of arguments why, whether it’s a safety issue — no one wants Peterson to become Jason Sehorn the sequel — or a blocking issue — Peterson intimated as much during an appearance on the “Bickley and Marotta” show earlier this week — or something else. But there is one thing Peterson still has that can’t necessarily be said for anyone else on the roster when it comes to punt returns. He has Arians’ trust.

Since Arians arrived the Cardinals have tried to find a legitimate replacement for Peterson on punt returns. Yet, as we stand here on the final day of OTAs, it looks like Peterson is headed for another season on the job. In a perfect world, the Cards would have a guy who could return kicks and punts, but rookie T.J. Logan should end up with the kick return spot and he’s never returned punts, and frankly, he probably shouldn’t start now. As excellent kick return man LaRod Stephens-Howling once emphasized, they are certainly not the same thing.

Smokey Brown is an option, although having your No. 2 receiver in harm’s way isn’t that much different than your No. 1 cornerback. J.J. Nelson has done it, but his double-whammy fumble/injury when he was doing it as a rookie in 2015 sticks in the mind. Nelson too is important to the offense and exposing his slight frame to more punishment would likely give pause.

Maybe it is as simple as getting Peterson better lanes within which to run. Maybe, as the Cardinals showed in 2015, as long as Peterson isn’t turning it over, that’s all they need in that part of the game. But getting a breakout return or 10 during the season wouldn’t be bad either.


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The “pressure” of OTAs

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2017 – 4:32 pm

Bruce Arians was talking about a play near the end of Thursday’s OTA, a two-minute drill in which the “young guys panicked.”

“When the clock’s running, we have a certain play we go to and (expletive), they lined up all over the place,” Arians said. “Those are the type of things that get you beat.”

Arians has talked about the team being more intelligent on the field. Asked if the staff didn’t emphasize that enough last year, Arians said no, simply that the Cardinals didn’t make important plays at the end of games  — in all three phases — last season as they had in 2015.

“We made mental errors in critical situations that we hadn’t made in the past,” Arians said. “That’s been a big point of emphasis.”

Hence Arians’ issues with the mistake in the two-minute drill. This is why Arians and the Cardinals like to work on specific situations here in the heat of June — so many seconds left, the team trailing by “x” amount  of points. The Cards do it in training camp and the regular season as well, but now is when the rookies and the newbies get a taste of how Arians wants things done. Obviously, as Arians noted Thursday, the pressure can still build without pads and in shorts months from football that counts.

“I’ve seen some really bright young players that don’t make those mistakes and are calm under pressure,” Arians said. “Pressure is usually something (where) you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. That’s why you feel it. If you know what you’re doing, you never feel it.”


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