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Blogs

Palmer still ranks as good fit for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on July 7, 2014 – 1:07 pm

Rankings in the NFL are what this time of year is all about, with outlets looking for content and there being almost no real football news happening. So I came across this latest analysis piece by Mike Sando about the starting quarterbacks across the league, and noticed that Carson Palmer — through a system ranked by scouts, GMs and coaches — was tied for 21st among starters in the NFL’s “third-tier” of QBs.

You can debate this all you want. Obviously Palmer isn’t considered among the top QBs in the game anymore. That’s understandable. (Interestingly enough, he tied with Rams QB Sam Bradford on the list, who has questions about him for different reasons.) It’s fair to wonder about what Palmer can still bring to the table, although after watching he and the Cardinals wind their way through the first year in Bruce Arians’ offense, I think the hiccups he had last year can be explained — and improved upon.

As the season progressed (and as noted in the article), Palmer’s production rose (10 TD, 14 INT in the first eight games, 14-8 in the second eight — and that included the brutal 1-4 day during the big win in Seattle, that included Palmer’s clutch game-winning TD toss to Michael Floyd). That came as the offensive players all started to understand the playbook better and as Arians began to understand his chess pieces a little bit better.

I think it is noteworthy too how much Palmer stressed the comfort level for everyone in the offense now. In the year I have known him, he is mostly low-key in all his comments but when it comes to talking about the offense, he isn’t prone to hyperbole. He was very cautious last offseason about where the team was, and those brakes were not nearly applied as much this offseason. He also should have a better offensive line, especially at left tackle. That too will matter.

At his age and with what he has done, he’s not going to climb lists such as Sando’s. He is not the long-term guy for the Cardinals either, and everyone knows that too. But one last thing caught the eye in Sando’s Palmer write-up and it was a comment from a veteran player (although rankings did not include players’ thoughts). ” He is a tough guy,” an anonymous safety said. “I respect his game and his work ethic.” I think that feeling pervades the Cardinals’ locker room. I think Palmer is exactly the kind of leader the team needed at QB — and it’s the kind of leader you cannot be unless your teammates believe in you in the first place.


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Mathieu starts to cut, “close” to football activity

Posted by Darren Urban on July 1, 2014 – 10:52 pm

As July begins, Tyrann Mathieu is still working hard on rehab in his quest to get back on the field as quickly as he can. That message is clear in the latest episode of “Tenacious.” At this point, Mathieu figures he is about “60, 70 percent” running. He is back to his normal weight room routine. He has begun to do some cutting during his rehab, and assistant athletic trainer Chad Cook said Honey Badger is close to returning to football activities.

In fact, Mathieu said he is holding out hope that when training camp begins in less than a month, he will be able to don a helmet and shoulder pads and at least do individual drills with the rest of the defensive backs (allowing that he won’t be in 11-on-11 work right away.)

It’s been a long summer for Mathieu. He was out with the team daily during OTAs and minicamp, usually spending the first part rehabbing while the rest of the team practiced and then, for the last segment of every workout, coming over to watch 11-on-11 work and trying to “coach” fellow safeties Deone Bucannon and Tony Jefferson. Watching wasn’t easy.

“It’s like when you are in elementary school and you wait all day for recess,” Mathieu said. “But you had been bad that morning and then teacher says you can’t play with the rest of the kids.”

Mathieu had said at the beginning of this process it was the mental grind that he was most concerned about wearing him down. The season approaches. The next “Tenacious” probably will come as camp opens. Honey Badger is in the home stretch.


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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 27, 2014 – 1:00 pm

Offensively, the Cardinals need to take a step forward this year. They need to so they don’t pressure the defense as much as last year (especially after some unknowns with defensive changes) and they need to so they can keep up in the NFC West arms race. Good news – there is a confidence there it will happen. Who are the guys who will be at the forefront of that plan? Here’s my guess, at least for the regular-season opener. (If you want to see the defensive picks, click here.)

QB – Carson Palmer. Biggest question around Palmer at this point? What happens in 2015, considering Palmer is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. But he is the guy the Cards will ride or die with this season.

RB – Andre Ellington. No-brainer. He’s earned the right, and we’ll see about the touches per game, which I will guess will be 20 to 22 a game.

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. Big year for Fitz, who scored last year like he once did but is still searching for his first 1,000-yard season since 2011 and who is coming to a crossroads – along with the franchise – with his contract in 2015.

WR – Michael Floyd. He’s a star on the rise. He played well last year, and he should be better this season. The third wide receiver should be Ted Ginn, but I fully expect John Brown to at least have a chance to play a role in the offense.

TE – John Carlson. This is assuming he stays healthy, but Carlson has looked good in the offseason and could prove to be a very nice bargain.

TE – Jake Ballard. At some point – maybe not until 2015 – this will be Troy Niklas’ spot. The rookie is far behind right now. Rob Housler still has a chance to work his way into the lineup. But right now, Ballard is feeling good with his knee and he is closer to the blocker that Arians likes.

LT – Jared Veldheer. The left tackle they have always wanted.

LG – Jonathan Cooper. He’s going to be back to health. Time for the 2013 first round pick to get his time on the field and show why the brass so believes in him.

C – Lyle Sendlein. Old reliable is what they want in the middle.

RG – Earl Watford. Paul Fanaika has been running first unit and there is also veteran Ted Larsen lurking as a possibility. But the Cardinals are hoping Watford comes around and takes control of a job he was drafted to have.

RT – Bobby Massie. Another wide open spot. There’s always a possibility of a late-summer free agent signing. Bradley Sowell isn’t go to go away. But Massie has looked better in the offseason work and in a lot of ways, this is probably his last chance to take ahold of the place he held as a rookie.

So that’s that. There will be a lot of time and practices between now and the opener. Injuries happen. Battles will be won or lost. We will see how this guesstimate (educated as it might be) holds up.

BreakHuddleblog


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Peterson contract wait no surprise

Posted by Darren Urban on June 27, 2014 – 8:05 am

I’ve gotten multiple questions about Patrick Peterson’s potential extension – or possible extension, or inevitable extension, however you want to describe it – and for now, it’s about waiting. There have been initial talks, but as Kent Somers breaks down, there are reasons for that. I’m not sure when this will get done, other than I feel confident in saying it will get done at some point.

The 2011 first-rounders are all in the same boat, however. Of the 32 first-round picks from 2011 – the ones who had the fifth-year player option available to the teams to lock up the 2015 season, as the Cardinals did with Peterson –a total of 21 had their 2015 option picked up. Of the 11 that didn’t have it picked up, three have been traded (QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Jonathan Baldwin, OL Gabe Carimi) and one was cut (OL Danny Watkins).

None have yet signed an extension.

Not all are going to get an extension. It’s very much up in the air if a Christian Ponder or Jake Locker will ever get another deal with the teams that picked them (actually, it’s probably a sure thing Ponder will not). Many, though, will, and while it’s on everybody’s mind here about Peterson, the top of that draft has plenty of players about which everyone will be waiting to see when they get their new contracts and how much it is:

(1) Carolina              Cam Newton                     2015 option picked up
(2) Denver                Von Miller                     2015 option picked up
(3) Buffalo               Marcell Dareus                 2015 option picked up
(4) Cincinnati           A.J. Green                     2015 option picked up
(5) Arizona               Patrick Peterson              2015 option picked up
(6) Atlanta               Julio Jones                    2015 option picked up
(7) San Francisco     Aldon Smith                    2015 option picked up
(9) Dallas                Tyron Smith                    2015 option picked up
(11) Houston              J.J. Watt                      2015 option picked up

There is cap room to get something done, but then again, a team can always find the cap room to get deals done if they need it anyway. Is it possible there won’t be any deals until after the season for any of the 2011 first rounders? I could see it. The wait will be, well, whatever the wait is. Guys like Newton, Miller, Green, Jones, Watt and Peterson — I know this, that they will all get a new contract with their current team. It’s about when, not if.


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 26, 2014 – 12:15 pm

As we come to the end of June (and the beginning of a little time off), it’s time for my annual pre-vacation pair of posts – the ones in which I take a stab at who will be in the starting lineup on opening day, which in this case will be Monday night against the Chargers. Some picks are obvious. Some are not. We’ll defense today, offense tomorrow. And then we’ll wait to see what training camp brings.

(For the offense, click here.)

DE – Darnell Dockett. There are a lot of questions, given Dockett’s age and 2015 salary, about what his situation will be next season. But this season, Dockett will be right where he always is – in the starting lineup. The Cards do like to rotate on the line. It’s necessary for good defenses to stay effective. And rookies Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson will get some time.

NT – Dan Williams. It’s a big year for Williams, who goes into the last year of his contract. He might have been pushed by Alameda Ta’amu, but Ta’amu is coming off knee surgery. Ta’amu will return early in the season, and the one-two combination will help. It has to start with Williams, though.

DE – Calais Campbell. He’s deserved Pro Bowl consideration the last couple of years, even if he hasn’t gotten it. When the Cardinals’ braintrust say they hope Martin turns into another Campbell, that says something.

ROLB – John Abraham. Abraham turned into a real find last year. He was supposed to be a part-time pass rusher and proved to be much more. He’s ahead of Sam Acho these days, but at some point, Acho (who’s in the last year of his contract) or someone has to step forward to provide a future.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He was going to be a starter as soon as Karlos Dansby left. Now, with Daryl Washington absent, there is a lot on the second-year man.

ILB – Larry Foote. There is a chance Lorenzo Alexander could win this job, but I think Alexander will end up filling multiple depth roles and Foote will get the starts. His signing has proved to be fortuitous given Washington’s situation.  What will be interesting to watch will be where someone like Kenny Demens fits in – with Washington out, there’s an opportunity for someone.

LOLB – Matt Shaughnessy. The Cardinals had the best run defense in the NFL last season in large part because Shaughnessy was so solid. It’s what you’d expect when you have a former defensive end playing outside in the 3-4. The Cardinals are hoping Alex Okafor develops down the road, but his inexperience leaves him a question mark for now.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Forget the criticisms (yes, he needs to get better, like everyone) and forget the chatter of who is the best, which is really meaningless anyway. He’s an anchor, and he’ll be an anchor for a long time.

CB – Antonio Cromartie. He looked healthy in the offseason and that’s a good sign. If he can regain the consistent level of play he’s had in the past, the Cardinals will be in great shape for their coverage.

FS – Rashad Johnson. With Tyrann Mathieu on the mend, Johnson is the natural choice. He’s a vet who won’t make mistakes. Tony Jefferson has been playing strong safety in offseason work, but Jefferson should be in the mix when dime packages are used.

SS – Deone Bucannon. The aforementioned Jefferson was running first unit in the offseason but the Cardinals are going to play their first-round pick if he shows anything in camp. I expect that to happen and Bucannon will get his shot as the season begins.

Tomorrow, we’ll have the offense.

 DefenseWorthBlog


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Peterson at 22 in Top 100 list

Posted by Darren Urban on June 26, 2014 – 8:31 am

The Cardinals have their third and (likely) final player in the NFL Network’s Top 100 of 2014 after Wednesday night’s unveiling of cornerback Patrick Peterson at No. 22 on the list. He follows linebacker Daryl Washington at 96 and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at 38.

Peterson has made a steady climb. He was 55th in 2012 after his rookie season, 33rd last year and now 22. In the constant chatter of who is better, Peterson will end up lower ranked than Seattle’s Richard Sherman, who has yet to be picked (but is certain to fall in the top 20 after his 2014 season.) But he is ahead of Darrelle Revis (37) and Joe Haden (39). Whatever and however people might want to pick at him this offseason, clearly many of his peers feel he’s pretty good. That’s clear in the video.

With everything that’s been said about Peterson this offseason, it will be interesting to watch how he plays this season – and whether Peterson can climb higher on the list next June.


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Fitz’s body on display for all to see

Posted by Darren Urban on June 25, 2014 – 9:19 am

Every year, ESPN the magazine puts out “The Body Issue,” their answer to Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue — the difference being ESPN uses athletes and does not use swimsuits. Just … well, their bodies. And this year, one of the bodies happens to belong to Larry Fitzgerald.

There are no photos out there yet. The issue is due to hit newsstands July 11 (and mailboxes right before that.) But in a video ESPN did to tease the issue, you indeed see a brief clip of Fitz during his shoot. I managed to capture a screen shot off the web video, which you can see here (Sorry it’s a link and not posted at the bottom, but this is a family website after all). I am a little surprised Fitz decided to do something like this, but he said in a text message this morning “It’s tastefully done.”

Certainly, Fitz is a guy who keeps in excellent shape. He’s in Minnesota right now, about to train as he always does in the dead time before camp. He may be heading directly toward his 31st birthday, but his conditioning and frame are as good as they always were.

There was one funny thing that struck me about the video. At the tail end, as the music fades, you hear one comment: “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I’ve heard that voice a million times over the years. It was Fitz.

POSTSCRIPT: After I posted this, @CPDizzle on Twitter shot me this link from an ESPN Magazine ad circa 1998. I had to laugh.

tempFitzCamp--nfl_mezz_1280_1024.BandSitupsUSE

 

 


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Camp gives Cooper “plenty of time”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 24, 2014 – 10:24 am

All along, Jonathan Cooper was going to play it smart.

The guard did participate in all of the offseason work as the first-unit left guard, just as was planned. Coach Bruce Arians raised a couple of eyebrows at the end of minicamp when he said it as “obvious” Cooper was “not the athlete he was last year at this time and I wouldn’t expect him to be.” Such is the downfall of coming back off a broken leg (and doing it at 312 pounds, which isn’t simple.) But Arians also finished his statement with a very important qualifier: “He has plenty of time to get there.”

Cooper knew it was going to take a while to get back to normal. In a lot of ways, the offseason was a perfect jumping off point for Cooper. He could ease back into the flow of the offense and starting without the punishment and rigors of actually playing offensive line. By the time Cooper has to really start hitting people in pads a few days into training camp, my guess is he’ll be in a much better place. The Cardinals have zero doubt that a) Cooper will be ready by the time games count for real and b) that Cooper will be able to perform like the former first-round draft pick that he is.

The Cardinals are counting on that left side of the line. Between Cooper and Jared Veldheer at left tackle, they represent two well-planned for pieces in GM Steve Keim’s rebuilding of the offensive line. Cooper, yet to play a regular-season down, must still prove himself. But barring another injury, I don’t see health being an impediment as the Cards move into the 2014 season.


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Adrian Wilson is back (with Bears)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2014 – 1:24 pm

Many have asked me this offseason if Adrian Wilson was going to possibly re-sign with the Cardinals. He was not going to come back here, but I mentioned a couple of times he was not done playing and was still trying to find a job. Now, he has one. The Chicago Bears signed Wilson Monday. Wilson has tweeted a few times about his rehab from Achilles surgery and generally his prep for playing again in 2014. He hasn’t played in a game since doing it with the Cardinals at the end of the 2012 season, when his stint with the Patriots last season was cut short when he was hurt in the preseason finale.

I’ve been told Wilson is in fantastic shape (as usual — who would doubt him there?) and we will see if he can nail down a roster spot in Chicago. Last year’s starter at strong safety, Major Wright, went to the Buccaneers in free agency. They drafted Brock Vereen in the fourth round, although he’s more of a free safety. Veterans Chris Conte, M.D. Jennings and Ryan Mundy are also in the mix. It’s hard to know exactly where Wilson stands. Signing this late, he won’t get on the field with the Bears until training camp opens. Last season, Patriots observers believed Wilson was on the bubble to make the team before his injury.

But Wilson will get his chance, which is all that he ever wanted. At some point, the end will come (and he will go into the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor) but that’s on hold. Wilson didn’t want his career to end yet, he certainly didn’t want it to end after a season-long injury, and now, it doesn’t have to. (Too bad the Bears are not on the Cardinals’ schedule this year.)

So, do the Bears remember this classic A-Dub primal scream?

BearsDubYell


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Fitz still impresses peers for Top 100 spot

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2014 – 10:15 pm

For the same reason Larry Fitzgerald keeps making the Pro Bowl — vast respect from his peers — is the same reason the Cardinals receiver again got into the top 40 of NFL players even though his numbers have been down the last couple of years. The NFL Network is again doing their “Top 100″ countdown over the summer, and Fitzgerald clocked in at No. 38 Wednesday night. He’s the second Cardinal to make this year’s list (we won’t talk about who else has already been named.)

Fitzgerald has been falling over the years. In 2012, he was seventh. Last year. he was 22nd. (He was 14th on the initial list in 2011.) There are some high-profile receivers that are behind Fitzgerald on the list, although despite his “low” yardage total of 954 this past season (still much better than 2012′s 798) he did have 10 touchdowns and as you can see on the video, opponents still worry about him. We’ll see if Fitz can find a way to climb up again after this season, with a second year in Bruce Arians’ offense.

The Top 100 list has now reached the top 30. Patrick Peterson should make it in at some point — I’m not sure he tops Richard Sherman again this year, but it’ll be interesting wherever he ends up.


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