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Larry Fitzgerald tackling, ranked

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2016 – 9:09 am

There were plenty of things to watch at Saturday’s Red-White practice, but in case you didn’t see it, Larry Fitzgerald made a catch heading out of bounds and before he came back inbounds, he took a slight detour to tackle former Cardinal and current game analyst Ron Wolfley before running back on the field. It was captured by various in-stadium cameras so it was preserved for all eternity.

Those that are around are well aware that Fitz likes to tackle innocent bystanders. Having covered this team for Fitz’s entire career, I’ve seen it many, many times. So I thought this might be an apropos time, in this day and age of power rankings, to throw in my own rankings of Fitz’s top five tackles. Unfortunately, one on James Harrison does not exist. Without further adieu:

5. Media members. Fitz isn’t shy of taking down a reporter. I’ve been on the receiving end of those a couple of times, although in recent years he prefers to toss the ball at me while I’m taking photos, so that’s a whole different balancing act.

4. Tackling Steelers OC Todd Haley during the game in Pittsburgh last year, only the latest example of Fitz dogging Haley in all the years they’ve known each other, dating back to Haley’s OC days in Arizona.

3. Fitz’s attempted tackle of OC Harold Goodwin, which instead turned into a Goodwin bear hug. Fitz didn’t read his keys at the Greenbrier that day.

2. Taking Wolf down (the fact we have multiple views of it on video just makes it better.)

1. Anytime Fitz takes down a kid with a big smile. I’ve seen it against the pee-wee football players that often play “games” at halftime of a Cardinals’ game, and I’ve seen it with the children of Cards’ people, like the sons of GM Steve Keim or VP of media relations Mark Dalton. Fitz is just a big kid in that regard.

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Thoughts after the Red-White practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2016 – 4:56 pm

Here we are after the Red-White practice, the annual first real break point of training camp. From here on out — save for the bye week — the Cardinals will have a football game every week. That starts this coming Friday with the preseason opener at home against Oakland.

But first, a few thoughts and analysis after the Red-White work, which featured a lot more live play than I was expecting. It was good to see real football again. I know Andre Ellington agrees.

— Among the “stars” Saturday was wide receiver Jaron Brown, who made several nice catches — including a 25-yard TD reception from Larry Fitzgerald on the WR option pass. Brown is one of those guys who could easily be with another team making more plays than he does in Arizona. He simply has too many talented guys ahead of him.

— Ellington also looked very good as a receiver. The Cards’ passing game looked pretty sharp all around.

— Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones caused havoc up front as the practice went on. Jones continues to show he will be a great pass rusher.

— Not a great sign considering both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians have said short-yardage improvement is a priority, but during “live” play in the middle of the field Chris Johnson was stuffed for a loss on a fourth-and-1 run.

— And in the goal line “live” drill, the first-string offense failed to score in three tries. There was an incomplete play-action pass, and then David Johnson was swamped under on two other runs. Linebacker Kevin Minter got Johnson the first time (Minter had a smile about it, as you can see in the picture), while veteran DT Red Bryant led the charge to blow up the final attempt.

— The second-unit offense was more successful in goal line, scoring twice on runs by Chris Johnson and Elijhaa Penny.

— Despite all the hitting/tackling, no one seemed to get hurt, although guard Mike Iupati did go down on a play when it looked like someone rolled up on his legs. Iupati was able to get back in after one play though, so crisis averted.

— Crowd was estimated at 25,000.

— The Cards are off Sunday, and resume practice Monday.


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Analyzing the Fitz and Palmer deals

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2016 – 12:57 pm

The news that both Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald received one-year extensions was certainly noteworthy, especially when it comes to Fitzgerald. Yes, Fitz could still decide to walk away after the season and retire. But I don’t think that’s likely now that he’s agreed to another year. No longer will he be a free agent, and I just don’t see him choosing to walk away. I could be wrong — and if the Cardinals were to win a Super Bowl, I’d guess the temptation would be there — but if Fitz comes anywhere close to posting similar numbers as last year while the team can win, I’d guess he fulfills the 2017 portion of his deal.

— As for Palmer, Bruce Arians was blunt: “I don’t think anything changes other than he’s got another year.” Palmer was going to be around.

— Kent Somers reported the move doesn’t have an impact on the salary cap. Which again would revert back to the roster certainty the Cards get out of these moves as a reason to do them.

— What it does do with both is create a roster certainty for next season, important on a team that still has a number of key free agents-to-be. Michael Floyd will be a free agent and figures to command big dollars. If the Cardinals lose him, at least they know they (probably) still have Fitz to anchor the receiving corps.

— Arians also said Palmer’s deal doesn’t impact the search for a QB of the future. “It depends on who the hell is out there,” Arians said. “Who is it? If he’s there, we’ll take it. If he’s not there, we don’t need him.”

— Big props to Mike Disner (pictured below with GM Steve Keim), the team’s director of football administration who is the main contract negotiator. It was a big week for him, getting the the Tyrann Mathieu extension done and then the Fitz and Palmer deals. Maybe he can get some down time now.


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Fitz messes with Smokey, and loafing rookies

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2016 – 2:01 pm

All John Brown wanted to do was go to lunch. But Larry Fitzgerald, making an appearance in a near-empty locker room, was surrounded by media, and he was trying not to do the interview session alone. So he grabbed Brown’s backpack — Smokey kept calling it his “bookbag” — and took it. Brown wasn’t allowed to talk while in concussion protocol, but Fitz wouldn’t give up the bag. So there Fitz sat in his locker, Brown’s backpack secure between his legs, while Brown sat on the outside of the scrum quietly waiting.

At one point, Brown, tired of waiting, tried to sneak on the floor through some media legs to grab the backpack. Fitz saw it coming, and wouldn’t let him take it — all while continuing to answer questions. Smokey could only sit, head in hand, waiting like a kid who is stuck in the department store while mom is shopping.

Can’t blame Fitz for being in a playful mood after Friday’s big news.

On to football stuff, the first of which includes an irritated Bruce Arians:

— Arians’ problem is with rookies and effort, and he made it very, very clear after Thursday’s practice. “Do not like where some young guys’ heads are as far as the speed of the game for the allotted time practice is,” Arians said. “They won’t make our ballclub at the level they are going at, so we have had some conversations.”

Arians didn’t name names. And he made clear exactly what he meant: “They are loafing, especially on special teams, where they are going to make the team,” Arians said. “Turn that tape on, they ain’t going fast enough to make this team.”

“You’ll either be flipping burgers or bagging groceries or you might be here,” Arians added. “That’s your choice, in about three weeks. Because if you practice like you did, you ain’t getting in the (first preseason) game next Friday night.”

— DT Ed Stinson (calf) is returning to practice. Center Taylor Boggs (calf) got hurt Thursday and is out for now. No other injury changes.

— Rookie CB Brandon Williams is the starter right now, Arians said. “There ain’t nobody else out there challenging him right now.”

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Wilson named to Arizona Sports Hall of Fame

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2016 – 9:11 am

The 2016 class of the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame — which has been around since 1957 — has been announced, and former Cardinals Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson was among the inductees.

Wilson is in a class with former Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson, former Suns coach John MacLeod, high school basketball coaching legend Royce Youree, race car driver Bob Bondurant and former Grand Canyon State Games director Erik Widmark (himself a one-time Cardinals employee).

“Just looking at the last few classes, Charles Barkley last year, Randy Johnson this year, those guys mean a lot to the Valley, and it’s just a culmination of everything I’ve done here as a Cardinal,” Wilson said. “I feel I’ve done everything right in the community as well.”

Wilson remains in the community, now that he is a scout for the Cardinals. Along with every other member of the personnel department, he’s out at training camp practices on a daily basis. The High Point, North Carolina, native said he feels just at home in Arizona.

“Everyone has taken me in. Nobody has told me to go back to North Carolina,” Wilson said with a chuckle. “I feel good as far as where I am at, being here in Arizona and what I have done.”

The induction ceremony will be held Oct. 27.


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Camp “grind” and needing two bars

Posted by Darren Urban on August 4, 2016 – 12:17 pm

Last week, Larry Fitzgerald noted that Bruce Arians doesn’t like to use the word “grind” when it comes to training camp. The coach made it obvious why today.

“It’s not a grind,” Arians said. “How can it be a grind when it’s one practice (a day) in air conditioning, and you stay in a five-star hotel. That ain’t a grind. A grind is two practices (a day), three hours, both in pads, in a (expletive) dorm and camp is off somewhere in the middle of nowhere. That’s a grind. Two bars, nowhere to go.”

The significance of two bars?

“One for the players, one for the coaches,” Arians quipped.

— The Cards seem to have gotten good news on a pair of injuries. LB Alani Fua (knee) doesn’t need surgery and, if you can call it good news, DT Corey Peters only has plantar fasciitis. That could still sideline him a little bit — it’s up in the air right now — but at least he didn’t injure again his Achilles, which was an immediate fear.

— Arians updated some of the long-term injuries: S Tyrann Mathieu (knee) and DT Frostee Rucker (foot) are out “probably two weeks,” DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle), CB Justin Bethel (foot) and CB Elie Bouka (hamstring) are probably less than two.

— WR Larry Fitzgerald will get his veterans day off today. He was supposed to be off Tuesday but worked because so many receivers were sitting because of injuries.

— Earl Watford will play a lot of center the next few practices, Arians said, to get him game-ready. Arians said offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin calls Watford “Knife” — as in Swiss Army, since Watford can play every position on the line. His versatility makes him a strong candidate to be one of the backup linemen active on game days.

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Mathieu will stay where he should be

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2016 – 10:29 pm

Late in Monday’s practice, as the Cardinals went to move between drills and the portable water stations were supposed to come with them, there was an accident. In an effort to quickly grab a water station — which includes a bucket of ice and Gatorade bottles — one of the equipment interns tipped it over. Ice spilled all over the 50-yard line.

Tyrann Mathieu, who only can stand on the sideline right now while on the PUP list and rehabbing his knee, went over to help all the equipment guys help clean it up.

Mathieu wasn’t the only one — other players helped, including injured rookie Robert Nkemdiche — but it underscored where Mathieu is on this team. Here’s a guy who is a star. He’s one of the faces of the franchise. And there he was, getting ice off the field as best he could.

That popped into my head Tuesday as the news leaked out that Mathieu was about to finally get the contract extension everyone was waiting for. It always seemed to be inevitable in my mind. I’ve spent enough time with Mathieu — including a chance to be with him for a day this summer when he returned to his hometown of New Orleans — to know how much he wanted to stay in Arizona. And it’s long become clear everyone in the organization wanted Mathieu to stay. It’s not often where a player and team are a perfect fit, but that’s the Cardinals and Honey Badger.

We’ll hear eventually about the details of Mathieu’s deal. He reportedly is getting $40 million in guarantees over five years (although so often, the
“guarantees” reported are leaked from the agent and it’s not the same definition of guarantee as the dictionary). I would also be surprised if the Cards didn’t get some kind of injury protection in the deal after Mathieu’s two ACL tears.

But this is a guy who you want to have on your team. It’s an incredible story, really, from where Mathieu came from after being bounced out of LSU and sinking in the the NFL draft. It’s hard to quantify just what Mathieu means to the Cards on the field, to the locker room, to the fan base. He has a charisma that it just so genuine, which you saw in a couple of his passionate speeches during “All or Nothing” and why teammates were so devastated that night in Philadelphia when he tore his ACL even though the Cardinals won in a blowout to capture the NFC West. Yes, it was about losing Mathieu the player, but it was also pain for Mathieu the person.

This is a deal that needed to be done. Mathieu needs to be a Cardinal.


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Freeney an option no longer

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2016 – 1:50 pm

Many times it’s been asked if the Cardinals were going to re-sign Dwight Freeney. It was unlikely unless there was an injury, but until he signed somewhere, there was always a chance. That chance is gone now. Freeney is headed to Atlanta to sign with the Falcons, ending whatever opportunity there was for him to return to Arizona.

In truth, Freeney’s chance to come back dried up when the Cardinals traded for Chandler Jones in March. Jones is a three-down player and a guy who is younger and better than Freeney, even after Freeney’s excellent eight-sacks-in-11-games year for the Cards a year ago. Behind Jones are a bunch of younger outside linebackers and the truth is the Cardinals need to develop linebackers for the future. Freeney won’t be around for the future.

That doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t see Freeney again. The Cardinals visit the Falcons Nov. 27. We’ll see how Jared Veldheer and/or D.J. Humphries deal with the spin move.


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Amid Mathieu contract reports, a lunch update

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2016 – 12:39 pm

A quick lunchtime update from training camp, amid multiple reports that the Cardinals and Tyrann Mathieu have agreed on a contract extension. Nothing official yet, so we’ll see how it plays out. In the meantime:

— On the injury front, WR J.J. Nelson (groin), WR Franky Okafor (ankle) and DT Ed Stinson (calf) got hurt Monday. LB Alani Fua hurt his knee and that’s the one the Cards are most concerned about. Fua is having an MRI to determine the severity.

— QB Carson Palmer will have a vets day off Tuesday. Larry Fitzgerald was supposed to, but with all the receiver injuries, he’s going to do some work.

— Arians on LT Jared Veldheer, who weighed about 310 last year but it up to 330 this year despite cutting body fat. “When he came to us he was a mountain,” Arians said. “Last year he was a pole.” Arians said Veldheer needed the weight after getting bullrushed too much in 2015.

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Smokey’s head check and Jenkins surgery

Posted by Darren Urban on August 1, 2016 – 12:30 pm

Turns out wide receiver John Brown banged his head in his collision with cornerback Patrick Peterson during practice Sunday, which is why Brown left. Brown will now be out as he goes through concussion protocol. We’ll see how long it takes to have him get back on the field. Guard Evan Mathis also left practice early Sunday, and Arians said it was leg fatigue where he had ankle surgery in the offseason and not a big deal.

Still, Mathis will get a veterans’ day off Monday, as will running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Drew Stanton. Arians had already said he would rotate some vets off practice during camp, so others will be sitting out as we go forward.

— Arians also said cornerback Mike Jenkins, who broke a bone in his hand over the weekend, was having surgery Monday. The hope is that Jenkins will be back on the field playing in a cast in two or three weeks, Arians said.

— Arians was happy with the first padded practice, saying there weren’t conclusions really to be drawn from it. “This is the time of year you have all those bad habits playing in shorts, and you’ve got to break them,” Arians said.

It is that shorts-to-pads transition that he watches very closely.

“It shows up real fast,” Arians said. “Guys who look like All-americans in shorts fade away, the guys who look like (expletive) in shorts, they’re football players. they show up.”


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