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A much different running backs room

Posted by Darren Urban on April 15, 2018 – 1:38 pm

Injuries certainly took a toll on Cardinals running backs last season, especially when you are talking about the bellcow going down in the first game of the season. But David Johnson has returned, and beyond that, there will be some significant change. Of the top five running backs in rushing yards for the team last year, only one remains — Elijhaa Penny. Kerwynn Williams was the latest to depart, heading to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday. Already long gone are Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington (the latter two, of course, didn’t even make it to the end of 2017.)

So as of now, there is Johnson at the top of the depth chart (where he would have been regardless of anyone else on the roster.) T.J. Logan, who showed tremendous promise as a rookie before suffering nearly the same wrist injury as Johnson (and like Johnson, has some fresh, healthy legs) and Penny, who has some size and who knows, could play a little fullback if needed. The Cards also have D.J. Foster along with Darius Victor and Bronson Hill, both of whom spent time with the team at the end of 2017.

This is a position the Cards could look at in the draft. Then again, there might be more positions they wouldn’t mind addressing in the draft than their eight picks, so decisions will have to be made.


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The plan to work outside in camp — maybe

Posted by Darren Urban on April 10, 2018 – 3:16 pm

Steve Wilks won’t be holding any joint practices in training camp in his first season — “I wanted to concentrate on us,” he said Tuesday — but what will be interesting is the amount of practices held inside University of Phoenix Stadium as opposed to not. In the heat of August, getting in the air-conditioning building holds heavy sway, but as the new Cardinals’ coach said, “we will try and get out as much as possible.”

“I know the weather is an issue out here,” Wilks said. “I’ve talked to the trainers about that on several occasions. (Head athletic trainer) Tom (Reed) has looked at me (like), ‘OK.’ We’ll definitely see how it goes. I think it’s all about building that callus up. But I’m going to be smart.”

Wilks isn’t unaware. He told a story about when he was an assistant with the then-San Diego Chargers, and when the team got off the plane, it was 118 degrees. The Chargers were staying in the Biltmore area, and Wilks, it being a night game, was looking to walk around and maybe get a bite to eat earlier on game day.

“I’m just going to get out and walk around,” he said. “I got out to the tunnel and I turned right around and said ‘room service.’ It was hot.”

So Wilks knows what it can be like, obviously.

“I’m listening to the stories,” Wilks added. “I’m saying we’re going to be outside, but we’ll see.”


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Barwin and where things are in free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on April 9, 2018 – 1:50 pm

There was a report Monday morning that the Cardinals would be getting a free-agent visit from veteran pass rusher Connor Barwin, who played for the Rams last season. Whether or not something comes of that, it’s a good reminder of where things are in the NFL when it comes to free agency, especially this close to the draft.

The bigger contracts for free agents have dried up. Players still out there usually have to consider playing for a little bit less than they originally planned in order to get a spot now, or they can wait until after the draft, see what teams fill up the holes at that player’s particular position, and then try and get a little leverage that way. Jordan Matthews, a receiver who visited the Cardinals among others early in free agency, didn’t sign until he got  a one-year, minimum deal with the Patriots recently.

The Cardinals, in the Steve Keim era, rarely sign a free agent in April prior to the draft, in fact. The last time they did it was 2015 — and that was just to allow Adrian Wilson to retire as a Cardinal. The last time they signed players who actually took the field in the offseason was when they signed cornerbacks LeQuan Lewis and Eddie Whitley in 2014, and neither lasted into the regular season.


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When Patrick Peterson “met” Sam Bradford

Posted by Darren Urban on April 6, 2018 – 9:10 am

Patrick Peterson chuckled. He hasn’t had a chance to catch up with new teammate Sam Bradford about the last time the two met on a football field, but it was memorable. Perhaps you remember — in a Cardinals’ 30-24 loss in Minnesota in November of 2016, the Vikings ran a play with a direct snap to running back Matt Asiata. Bradford, the Vikings’ quarterback, slid out wide as a receiver on the play. And when the ball was snapped, Peterson ran up and shoved him to the ground.

Peterson still doesn’t know why it was a 15-yard roughing penalty when Bradford was split wide. But it caused an uproar. Bradford shrugged it off after the game — “If we get 15 yards, I’ll take it every time,” he said — but all the Vikings linemen were ticked off. “I’m not happy about that,” then-Vikings guard Alex Boone said at the time. “We’ll talk about it later. He knows what he did, and he knows what he’s got coming to him.”

Yes, that’s the Alex Boone that was Peterson’s teammate last season. And while Peterson hasn’t talked to Bradford about it, he has talked to Boone.

“He was like, ‘I almost decked you because you laid out my freaking quarterback,’ ” Peterson recalled. “I was like, ‘He was a receiver. I didn’t know he was a quarterback at the time.’ I remember on that play, because they ran that play previously, and I did nothing to him. Coach (Bruce Arians) was like, ‘Next time they run that play, take him out.’ So I did. I was just following the instruction of my head coach.”

Peterson laughed at the memory. “Next thing you know, I got a flag. I am happy I did not get a fine. It hurt us because I think they scored that same drive (they did, aided by another personal foul on Tony Jefferson), but I think B.A. took that penalty for me.”

To be fair, the Cardinals — and Arians — had a point. The previous time the Vikings ran the play, Bradford curled back a bit, took a backward throw from the running back and threw deep downfield, earning a pass interference call inside the 5-yard line and a big reason for Peterson to want to take Bradford out of the play the next time.

We’ll see if Peterson and Bradford have a discussion about personal fouls past. And who knows? Boone, a free agent, could ostensibly still return to the Cardinals, and all three would have the chance to reminisce.


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Mathieu pens goodbye letter to Arizona

Posted by Darren Urban on April 5, 2018 – 8:33 am

It’s been a few weeks since Tyrann Mathieu left the Cardinals, but Thursday, he wrote a goodbye letter to Arizona in The Players’ Tribune. He made mention of how hard it was to have so many defensive backs drafted in front of him in 2013. He said thanks to many of his former teammates, particularly former safety Rashad Johnson — who took Mathieu under his wing despite the reality that Mathieu was eventually going to supplant Johnson in the starting lineup.

He said thanks to Patrick Peterson, of course.

“Seeing the rumors and speculation he could leave, I was doing my best to just sweep it under the rug,” Peterson said. “I’m quite sure he was trying to do the same thing. It’s very tough seeing a brother leave and go on to a different team. But I know he’ll make the best of his opportunity. I tell him all the time, I love to see him with his back against the wall.”

Mathieu also made clear that, while he was relishing this fresh start, his time in Arizona meant a lot to him.

No matter what happens next, I’m always going to treasure my memories of looking up into the stands in Glendale and seeing all the fans rocking blonde mohawks and a single eye black. Through all the wins, losses and injuries, you guys gave me strength.

When I first got here, I was just a kid who loved football, but didn’t understand much else about life. Today, I’m a man who understands how much you can offer the world if you give a little of yourself. Arizona did that.

So to every Cardinals fan who has taken an interest in me over the past five years, thank you. Thank you so much for accepting me and embracing me, not just as Honey Badger, but as Tyrann.


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Niklas moves on, and the Cards at tight end

Posted by Darren Urban on April 4, 2018 – 1:17 pm

Once, veteran teammate John Carlson said of rookie Troy Niklas, “He looks like a 12-year-old boy who swallowed a grizzly bear.” At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, Niklas — the Cards’ second-round pick in 2014 — was a prototype tight end for coach Bruce Arians. He just couldn’t stay on the field enough, beset by ankle and wrist problems.

So Niklas moved on Wednesday, agreeing to a deal with the Patriots. It’ll be very interesting to see how Niklas performs there, especially in an offense that will throw to the tight end. Niklas is no Gronk athletically (no tight end is), but he figures to get more targets and he is coming off his best season, albeit with a low bar. In 2017, Niklas in 15 games had 11 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown, after totaling just eight receptions in 26 career games over his first three seasons.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals are going to have to address the position. As long as Niklas was out there, there was a chance he could return (the Cards also lost a potential depth guy on the offensive line when Earl Watford moved on to the Bears this week.) Jermaine Gresham is coming off an Achilles injury and is limited right now in his offseason work, although I thought he looked better than I might have expected when he was doing what he could Tuesday. The Cards also have Ricky Seals-Jones, who flashed as an undrafted rookie but still skews heavily as a receiver and not a blocker (not a shock, given that he was a wideout in college.) Gabe Holmes also remains.

At this point, it might make more sense to wait until after the draft, see if a tight end emerges there, and then reassess the position afterward.


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For Cardinals, offseason work has arrived

Posted by Darren Urban on April 2, 2018 – 1:26 pm

Thanks to a new coaching staff, the Cardinals are allowed to have an extra couple weeks of offseason work. That means Tuesday, players will return for the beginning of the voluntary offseason program (azcardinals.com will have coverage). This is only Phase One of the three-phase offseason, which includes Phase Two (on-field work without helmets) and Phase Three (OTAs). There is also the mandatory minicamp in mid-June and a voluntary minicamp in just a couple of weeks — April 17-19 — which will be the first time the players will be doing football-related things on the field.

It’ll also be the first time the new coaching staff and Steve Wilks will be able to interact with players on more than just a cursory hello, because meetings can start. The heavy lifting of the offseason is still to come, but the relationship between staff and roster begins this week.


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Cards could still re-sign own FA or two

Posted by Darren Urban on March 28, 2018 – 7:36 am

The majority of the Cardinals’ own unrestricted free agents have found a home going into the 2018 offseason, but there are still some that have not yet signed anywhere. The door isn’t necessarily closed that one — or a couple — could come back.

“It’s still a possibility,” coach Steve Wilks said at the NFL league meetings in Orlando. “I know some of those guys have gone on and gotten with (other) teams, but in that second wave, third wave, we can circle back and find out from a financial standpoint if it is feasible (for someone to return.)”

Feasible usually means how much the player is willing to take monetarily. He also has to still fit in the depth chart, and we are creeping closer to the time when teams will simply put free agency on hold until after the draft, to see what holes are filled in that regard.

Of the remaining free agents the Cards still have, some could make sense to return: guards Alex Boone and Earl Watford, since the line could still use more depth; safety Tyvon Branch after the release of Tyrann Mathieu (although the significant knee injury Branch suffered last season will be a factor, as will his age); running back Kerwynn Williams; defensive lineman Frostee Rucker; and, given a position shortage, tight end Troy Niklas. (The full Cardinals’ free-agent tracker is here.)

The Cardinals will eventually get to 90 on the offseason roster, but they are at 63 now. (Update: Make that 64.) Usually, between draft picks and undrafted rookies, the Cards add around 25 players. That would leave a couple spots still — and, of course, if they found a better option, they could also eventually release someone already in place.


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Wilks: Despite Suh, NFCW moves, “focus on us”

Posted by Darren Urban on March 27, 2018 – 9:48 am

There has been a ton of roster movement for all four teams in the NFC West this offseason, and it was hard not to notice the most recent by the odds-on division favorite L.A. Rams. They signed Ndamukong Suh to add to Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers as an incredibly formidable defensive line. It does not bode well for the rest of the division, including — obviously — the Cardinals.

“I commend the Rams for what they are doing,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday at the NFL owners’ meetings. “You know how they are on offense already with (Todd) Gurley and (jared) Goff, and they are trying to shore up that defense. It’s going to be a very competitive year in the west with some difficult games in the division. But the biggest thing we will do, we are always going to keep the focus on us. That’s the most important thing.”

Wilks is still in the middle of getting together his initial roster. The draft hasn’t even occurred. To be clear, at some point, the focus will be on the Rams — or Seahawks, or 49ers — when those teams come up (twice) on the schedule. The Cardinals were already trying to upgrade the offensive line, so it’s not like a new Rams’ defensive line is changing that thought process. Wilks still hasn’t gotten a chance to fully outline his philosophy and culture with the players (that comes next week when the players return for the start of the offseason program), so there is still a lot to do before getting to opponents, division or not.


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Stanton and stability at backup QB

Posted by Darren Urban on March 26, 2018 – 8:12 am

Drew Stanton officially moved on from the Cardinals this weekend, agreeing to terms with Cleveland in an interesting QB group that now has Stanton, Tyrod Taylor, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and what is certain to be a rookie quarterback taken with the No. 1 choice in the draft, whether it is Sam Darnold or Josh Allen or whomever.

But Stanton’s departure also underscores the remarkable stability the Cardinals had at quarterback during the five years of Bruce Arians. Stanton was one of the first free agents signed by the Cards after Arians was hired, Carson Palmer was acquired in a trade a few weeks after, and that was the setup the whole time Arians was coach: Palmer as starter, Stanton was No. 2. There were others mixed in at No. 3, whether it was Logan Thomas or Matt Barkley or Blaine Gabbert or even Ryan Lindley, and certainly injuries impacted the position. But it was always Palmer/Stanton, stability that I think ultimately helped the offense. (Of course, that stability might have led to a comfort level that slowed a look for a future QB, but that’s a story that has been and will be talked about elsewhere.)

As for Stanton, here was a guy who signed with the Cardinals expecting to finally get a chance to start, and then never did because Palmer arrived soon after. But he eventually came to grips with who he was in the NFL and his role, and he did it pretty well. Stanton ended up winning nine of 13 starts in Arizona (and helped the Cards rally to a win against the Rams in 2014 in the game Palmer started and tore his ACL.) That he got a walk-off moment by beating the Seahawks in Seattle to close 2017 and his (and Arians’) Cardinals’ tenure was apropos.


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