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Broncos — and preseason — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2017 – 10:55 pm

The preseason is over. The veterans and guys who know they have locked up roster spots, it’s a great time. Football counts the next time the Cardinals play a game. But the next hours and days are hard for many of the others on the bottom half of the list. Take guard/center Cole Toner, who looked like he might be the Cards’ choice as a seventh offensive lineman but then ran into some issues in Atlanta. It made Thursday’s game in Denver a little more important.

“I’m definitely not comfy,” Toner said. “I played the whole game today, so usually that doesn’t portend good things, but honestly I don’t know.

“I’m confident. I don’t know. We’ll watch the film tomorrow. I thought I played well. I didn’t play that well in Atlanta so I needed to come back and play a better game, which I did. So I’m proud of myself for that. It’s on to the regular season — if the opportunity presents itself for me.”

That was a lot of Thursday. Some impressed Bruce Arians, like Rudy Ford and Elijhaa Penny. Some didn’t, although Arians wasn’t being specific. This is about a “final” roster, but it’s also about a lot of guys getting their dreams crushed, and Arians is cognizant of that.

— The good news is the Cards came out of the preseason fairly healthy. Rookie defensive tackle Pasoni Tasini hurt his right knee, although Arians said it was likely a sprain and not serious. That’d be good, because Tasini figures to be a practice-squad candidate.

— No decision yet on the punter, although I thought Matt Wile probably won the job.

— I thought Ford, the rookie safety, looked good playing in the second half, and Arians noted him specifically. Ford and Harlan Miller looked like they were in a battle for a last secondary spot. Both are practice squad-eligible, so maybe that’s where the one goes who doesn’t make the roster.

— Here’s my guess — and it’s just a guess, although educated after watching the last six weeks — at the 53-man roster.

— The Cardinals will meet as a team Friday morning and then the players have a few days off. That’s good because the front office has plenty to sort through with all the cuts coming. I am not sure what the schedule is for releasing guys when it comes to the Cards, but names could start trickling out as it happens. Arians has a press conference late Friday morning.


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Wednesday before the Broncos, Haden and punters

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2017 – 11:03 am

The last preseason game is upon us. None of the starters will be playing, and neither will some key backups. There are, in reality, very few spots left and while the game could mean something in a spot or two decision-wise, most of the choices could already be made now. The Cardinals know what they have. These next few days are about adjusting the roster, comings and goings that will be impacted by waiver claims, signings and maybe a trade.

— Lot of questions about whether the Cardinals would chase soon-to-be free-agent CB Joe Haden. I don’t expect it to happen, and there is a simple reason why. Haden isn’t close to the same player he was just a couple years ago, when he deserved to be in the same discussion with the Patrick Petersons of the world. He struggled last season and has struggled a lot this preseason. I’ll be interested to see what he can get on the open market, since the Browns do have a $4 million offset, and we’ll see if he signs for more than one year. But his body has been breaking down over the last couple of seasons. As with every player, I fully expect the Cardinals to at least evaluate the possibility. The likelihood of the Cards chasing him, when there are probably going to be many suitors, I would think would be low. Mostly because he isn’t the player he once was.

UPDATE: Adam Schefter reports the Steelers are signing Haden for a 3-year, $27M deal including $7 million this season. So that’s that.

— There is the punting battle between Matt Wile and Richie Leone, knowing that veteran Jeff Locke has been cut and reports say still-effective veteran Andy Lee could traded by Carolina. Lee took a pay cut, which makes his salary more manageable, and if the Panthers are willing to take a low-round pick, maybe that is a path the Cardinals consider.

— Other stuff to watch in the game, especially when the final roster, at least at the bottom, may come down to who will be active on game days (which means a lot for guys who play special teams.): Rookie Rudy Ford on special teams, since he is likely battling Harlan Miller for a final safety spot. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson on offense, against Brittan Golden on special teams. How well do guys like Cole Toner hold up on the offensive line? Can the Cardinals be comfortable with their offensive line depth?

— There will not be an injury report until a week from today. That gives three key players — G Mike Iupati (triceps), DT Robert Nkemdiche (calf strain) and LB Deone Bucannon (ankle) — one more week before we really get a sense of whether they will be ready to play the regular-season opener.

— Speaking of the waiver claims and trades that could happen (remember, any player claimed off waivers must remain on the 53-man roster for at least three weeks), in the Keim era, the Cardinals have been awarded three players on waiver claims (Thomas Kaiser, Alameda Ta’amu and Bradley Sowell) and aquired two players in trades (Marcus Cooper and Matt Barkley) during final roster cutdown time.

— I’ll post a guess at the 53-man roster soon after the last preseason game.


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David Johnson on Sports Illustrated cover

Posted by Darren Urban on August 29, 2017 – 7:42 am

When you become one of the best players in the NFL, people notice. And David Johnson has certainly become that. It’s not often a Cardinal is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Johnson made the cut this year, however, in a funky Gulliver-meets-Lilliputians kind of way for the magazine’s 2017 NFL preview. The issue features a big story on Johnson as well. (To be fair, there are regional covers, as SI has been doing over the past many years. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt are the other cover boys.)

In recent years, it’s been mostly Larry Fitzgerald who has been the SI cover boy, including on the preview issue last year when the Cards were a sexy Super Bowl pick. John Brown made it back in 2014 too. But this year it is Johnson, the man who could challenge for 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Certainly, he’s the engine on which the Cards’ offense will run.

“It’s pretty cool,” Johnson said. “I think it turned out really nice. We knew they were going to do a story. I did not know if I was going to be on the cover or not. They said I had a good chance. Once I saw it, it was amazing. It’s an amazing feeling.

“I hope to get a copy real soon.”

Teammate Chris Johnson, who himself got an SI cover once upon a time, said it’s a dream to get an SI cover. “I definitely like his, all the players falling off him,” Chris Johnson said.


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Hurricane Harvey stresses Brittan Golden

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2017 – 11:38 am

The Cardinals have a handful of players impacted by the flooding in Houston and its surrounding areas, including wide receiver Brittan Golden. Golden, fighting for a roster spot, doesn’t have the bank account of a Larry Fitzgerald — not after years of bouncing from the practice squad to off a roster, never knowing for sure what the future holds.

His wife and daughter aren’t at his house. When Hurricane Harvey and the rains approached, Golden made sure they headed out to visit his wife’s mother in Austin. But he has been getting video from a neighbor, and as the water creeps closer to his front door and his life inside is threatened with flooding, Golden worries. Since he was already worried about his job status, the stress level is high.

“I just don’t want the house to get flooded,” Golden said. “That’s the main thing.”

Fitzgerald jumped in, saying there was $2,500 for anyone who could get into Golden’s house and move Golden’s furniture from the first floor to the second floor. “We got you,” Fitz said, as Golden chuckled at the gallows humor.

“It’s a pretty big concern,” Golden said. “If I were to lose everything downstairs, couch, refrigerator, tile, the floor, it ain’t cheap. (But) as long as everyone is safe, I’m not that worried. It can be replaced.”

The fact he’s had a good camp doesn’t make him any more confident in a roster spot either. “Never,” he said. “You never know what can happen. Make sure you’re ready to go and do what you can to put good film out there.”


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Keim: A few spots left and CJ2K’s place

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2017 – 8:13 am

Steve Keim figures there are four or five spots still left to be determined on the 53-man roster, with one preseason game left and the starters not playing Thursday. It seems that one would be at running back. It makes sense the Cardinals would only keep four running backs. David Johnson is in. Kerwynn Williams, as a back and return man, is in. (T.J. Logan will be going on injured reserve.) If you keep four, that would leave two spots for Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington and Elijhaa Penny. Penny, who is the only one of the three who plays special teams, seems to be trending as a guy who gets a spot. So does a final spot for to Johnson — who fumbled twice Saturday before coming back with a couple of good runs — or Ellington?

Keim, during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday, kept it vague when talking about Johnson’s situation. “I’m not going to critique Chris on the radio,” Keim said. “The one thing I’ll say is that he’s a pro’s pro, he gets it, and it’s not just his performance in one preseason game that is going to make a difference. It’s the body of work throughout camp that Coach and I will look at and we’ll determine the best 53 and more importantly, who is really going to be active on game day?”

(Johnson, for his part, feels like after an offseason off, he is finally getting his game legs under him.)

— The positions still most in the air, in Keim’s eyes: Punter, a fourth outside linebacker, inside linebacker and offensive line depth. Cap Capi flashed as he tries to make a push for a final OLB spot, but the Cardinals may still be looking for a fourth guy who may not be on the roster. Jarvis Jones was supposed to be that guy but he’s been hurt virtually all of camp.

— Keim did say the third OLB spot deservedly goes to Kareem Martin. “There’s no player who has worked harder this offseason than Kareem,” Keim said, calling him the most improved of anyone on the roster.

— Keim was happy to see John Brown play well. “We all know the player John Brown can be when he is healthy,” Keim said. “He is a dynamic player who can create mismatches, which is something we desperately need from him.” Keim added that Brown is a “very important part of this puzzle,” singling out Smoke and Tyrann Mathieu as the guys who change field position.

— Keim admitted he wasn’t feeling great about Brandon Williams early in camp but that the second-year cornerback has completely changed his mind. “I feel like we have four solid corners, which is a sigh of relief,” Keim said.

— The wide receiver group responded to Bruce Arians tough words. Keim said that has shown not only on the field but “they got out of the training room,” underscoring that Arians’ frustration a couple weeks ago may have been a little bit less about play and more about availability.


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Falcons aftermath, and Stanton’s hard count

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2017 – 9:38 pm

That Drew Stanton hard count. Those of us who were at training camp practice every day saw it … well, just about every day. There it was, with the Cardinals 21 yards from the end zone, and he barked and the Falcons jumped. He had done it earlier, but guard John Wetzel flinched too. (Bruce Arians let him know: “I already got Wetzel – he don’t have much ass left.”)

But this time, just the Falcons moved and it gave Stanton a free play, and he lobbed a 21-yarder to Smokey Brown that Brown somehow came down with over-the-shoulder.

“We went back to (the hard count) and they kept jumping,” Stanton said.

Those two TD passes to Brown, along with a defense that made Matt Ryan look miserable (preseason, yes, but an 8.1 passer rating is not what the Falcons wanted to see in the third game of the preseason) made Saturday pretty good for the Cardinals. Not great. But good. Much better than this time last year. The starters and main guys are done now. They won’t play Thursday in Denver. Anyone playing this coming game is either not going to be on the team or is likely fighting (a few locks will play – they have to – but the last preseason game is what it is, especially with 90-man rosters).

That opening trip to Detroit, when things count for real, is only two weeks away.

— The running backs situation is interesting. Arians would not say Chris Johnson has locked up a roster spot, notable after Johnson fumbled twice. Elijhaa Penny also lost a fumble. Kerwynn Williams is making this team as a return man, but beyond he and David Johnson, it feels like Penny, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington are battling for two spots.

— DT Olsen Pierre is in concussion protocol. Hopefully he’s OK. If he’s down for any time, depending on what happens with Robert Nkemdiche’s calf strain, things could get dicey on the defensive line.

— Stanton quietly had a nice night, completing 4-of-6 passes for 53 yards and his score.

— Linebacker Cap Capi probably isn’t making this team (although Jarvis Jones’ lingering back issue might create a need for a fourth OLB; that guy could still come from final cuts or a trade too). But Capi was impressive Saturday, enough to earn props from Arians. He had seven tackles, 1½ sacks and a tackle for loss.

— The playmakers on defense made plays. Markus Golden gets a strip sack. Tyrann Mathieu a pick on a tipped pass by Karlos Dansby. Patrick Peterson should’ve had a pick, but he lost it as he was going to the ground. “He’s getting fined for his drop,” Arians deadpanned.

— Matt Wile seemed to have a much better night than Richie Leone punting, although the numbers weren’t all that different. Right now, I’d guess Wile has the lead for a roster spot.

Huge comeback night for Brown. He spiked the ball on the pylon after his first score. “It was an emotional release to show people that I’m back and feeling good.” Brown said. Brown has to stay healthy. That’s a given. But the Cardinals need him out there and productive. His impact is obvious. We saw it Saturday.

— Arians acknowledged he considered not playing running back David Johnson Saturday until changing his mind, in large part because Johnson was part of the early script. Johnson made his lone catch of the preseason on the game’s second play, resulting in a first down. He came out after that.


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Friday before the Falcons, in a new stadium

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2017 – 2:44 pm

So the Cardinals get to open a stadium Saturday. It just isn’t their own. They’ve done that before, and I remember that day – even though it was in my previous life with the East Valley Tribune. It was just the preseason opener, but the Steelers were in town and a fanbase thirsty for an indoor stadium finally had one. The atmosphere was excellent.

In the Georgia Dome the Falcons didn’t have as bad of a situation as the Cardinals did in Sun Devil Stadium. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl last season in that building. But the first game in a new palace means something, preseason or not. Honestly, the Cardinals couldn’t really get a better final test before the regular season. (No starters are going to play in Denver.)

A lot has been said about the length of camp, but realistically, the Cardinals are always going to have long camps because they need to be inside. As Bruce Arians said, putting 90 players (plus, including interns, some 30 coaches) inside the practice bubble in Tempe doesn’t make sense. But part of camp next year sounds likely to include a week against another team, so that certainly would break up the monotony.

— Without a lot of David Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s hard to really get a sense of what the Cardinals are going to have offensively no matter what happens in Atlanta. But no matter what Arians says, I do think that unit needs to have a couple of good drives early. Arians noted he’d like to see the pass protection be solid because the Cards struggled in that area in Atlanta last year.

— Speaking of the offensive line, here’s what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said his message was to the unit about their responsibility for Carson Palmer: “Either you protect him or I’m not going to protect you.”

Added Goodwin, “We have to do a better job, because we know he makes us go. Without him, it’s an uphill battle.”

— Defensively, you want to see better linebacker play than last week. Hopefully, the cornerbacks not named Patrick Peterson face some tests as well.

— It was good to hear Arians say he doesn’t think defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will miss a regular-season game. The key will be that first day of practice following the Broncos preseason finale. You want Nkemdiche in the lineup, but, like Deone Bucannon, if he misses the opener to make sure he’s around the rest of the season, you want to be smart.

— In my opinion, some of the battles still going on up and down the depth chart: Backup running back, although I think Chris Johnson has the edge on Kerwynn Williams; Backup inside linebacker between Josh Bynes and Philip Wheeler; and the sixth wide receiver between Brittan Golden and Jeremy Ross, and with an outside shot to Aaron Dobson (because of his speed).

— Another battle still wide open is punter. Arians said neither Matt Wile nor Richie Leone has separated themselves, and Arians didn’t rule out looking elsewhere. One plus is the 90-man roster through the last preseason game. The Cards can evaluate both punters two more games.


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Bethel to start, McCain visits

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2017 – 1:00 pm

It comes as no surprise by now, but the battle for the No. 2 cornerback spot never really ended up much of a battle. Justin Bethel was the leading candidate coming into camp and no one ever really came close. Coach Bruce Arians officially said Bethel was the starter opposite Patrick Peterson.

“He’s earned that job,” Arians said.

“I’m as pleased with the corner position as I am with just about any position on the team right now,” Arians added.

Brandon Williams and Tramon Williams will be the No. 3 and No. 4 corners. It’s likely that those are the only four cornerbacks the Cardinals keep on the 53-man roster, given an abundance of safeties.

— The penultimate Cardinals training camp practice featured a visit from the governor. The final one Thursday featured a U.S. senator. Huge Cardinals fan John McCain stopped by during the workout, chatting with team president Michael Bidwill, General Manager Steve Keim and scout Adrian Wilson for a bit before coming down to the field and getting a couple of minutes to talk to Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer and then David Johnson.

“It was cool,” Johnson said. “We just got to talking about Iowa, bringing up the old memories. The Iowa state fair where everything’s fried, fried twinkies and stuff.”

Tackle D.J. Humphries joked that McCain wanted to talk to the wrong D.J.

“I don’t think I’m cool enough,” Humphries said. “That’s all it is. There’s a hierarchy when it comes to cool guys, and I don’t think I’ve met that level of expectancy to be ‘Cool Guy’ yet. Maybe next year I’ll give it a shot. I’ll try harder next year.”

— The receivers rallied in camp after Arians said they needed to pick up their game. One player in particular was J.J. Nelson, Arians said, adding that Nelson will be a captain Saturday night.

— Arians said the Cardinals, who return to their Tempe facility next week, will be practicing earlier in the morning to prep for the early morning kickoffs as the regular season begins. Both the first two games, at Detroit and at Indianapolis, will kick off at 10 a.m. Arizona time.

 


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After practice: The Governor visits

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2017 – 4:49 pm

It was the last regular schedule day at #CardsCamp Wednesday (as well as the last open practice.) There is a morning practice closed to the public Thursday, and then training camp is (mercifully) over. Last year, the last regular practice had visitors — the Phoenix Suns. This year, there was also a special visit — Govenor Doug Ducey, who arrived with team president Michael Bidwill and talked with Bidwill through the length of the workout.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald actually left practice at one point (the setup of practice left the starting offense and the starting defense on the sideline for extended period of time while the other side of the ball worked) to say hello to Ducey and to threaten to give Bidwill a hug despite being sweaty as hell by that point. (That, like tackling, is a favorite thing for Fitz. I speak from experience.) Later in the practice, Fitzgerald brought David Johnson over for an introduction. Then Fitzgerald had another post-practice conversation with Ducey. Fitz understands how to make all the connections.

— CB Tramon Williams did not practice, apparently taking a rest day. RB Kerwynn Williams sat again with a sore foot, after it had been stepped on.

— At one point, S Budda Baker went down after a play and hobbled off with the assistance of head athletic trainer Tom Reed. But Baker turned out to be OK and came back to practice.

— Fitz made a spectacular diving one-handed catch on the sideline. Tight end Gerald Christian made a great leaping TD catch in the back of the end zone, and fellow tight end Ricky Seals-Jones made an equally impressive grab over (literally) linebacker Philip Wheeler. Wide receiver Krishawn Hogan made an improbable catch with CB Brandon Williams in a perfect spot.

— One day left.


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After practice: Nkemdiche limps off

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2017 – 5:24 pm

Bruce Arians was talking at lunchtime about how healthy the Cardinals were getting. Then defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche limped off to the locker room, accompanied by a trainer. Looked like his left ankle or leg was bothering him. No way to know what it is — your first thought is that it isn’t serious, but we’ll talk to Arians tomorrow — yet with the very good preseason/camp Nkemdiche has been having, it’s certainly an undesirable situation.

— QB Carson Palmer took a rest day. So too did LB Karlos Dansby, who finally came back to practice Monday. I’m sure they are just being careful with Dansby, but it’s been a while since he’s had a couple practices in a row.

— With Dansby not out there, Josh Bynes was taking first-team reps at inside linebacker with Haason Reddick in Bynes’ first practice following a hamstring issue. It sure looks like Bynes has a roster spot, unless he collapses the rest of the preseason.

— RB Kerwynn Williams was also sitting out practice. Not sure his aliment. Arians did not mention him during his press conference.

— The last two days, Reddick has been taking reps as an OLB/pass rusher during one-on-one drills with the offensive line. (Actually, they have been two-on-two drills as  the OL works on protecting on stunts and twists.) The Cardinals aren’t going to overwhelm Reddick with too many non-ILB things right now, but Arians had said they want to get him a little more exposure to pass rushing.

— Is David Johnson getting to do enough? It’s interesting to watch the running back sprint 30, 40, 50 yards through a play sometimes — occasionally he doesn’t even have the ball — in what looks like an attempt just to get some running in. (Side note: He’s fast. Faster than you think.)

— During “thud” tackling, whoever is covering TE Jermaine Gresham better be ready. Gresham still plows into a defender who chooses to get in front of him.

— During scout team work, rookie QB Trevor Knight had a couple of nice 44-yard bombs to RB James Summers (over LB Chandler Jones) and WR Krishawn Hogan (over S Budda Baker.)

— Mostly though, it was a practice of the defense. Tyrann Mathieu was actually getting irritated late in the work because scout-look QBs were holding the ball so long against the No. 1 D (there would have been multiple sacks). Mathieu would have had one airborne pick before he yanked his arms down at the last second, preventing any kind of in-air contact, and on another play where Knight short-hopped a receiver Mathieu had defended perfectly, Mathieu angrily batted the ball back into the turf. He knows he would’ve had the pick.

— Guys that did get interceptions: CB Patrick Peterson, S Ironhead Gallon, LB Philip Wheeler in his first practice back from injury, and Baker.


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