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Thursday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2016 – 2:26 pm

The work in San Diego is almost over. The Cardinals have their preseason game against the Chargers Friday night, and to be frank, the attention has shifted from what the team might do this week and to what Bruce Arians might do after his health issues. The reality is that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was already set to call plays, and Arians had joked previously that he doesn’t have much to do during a game in those cases anyway. Still, all eyes are going to be on B.A. That’s only natural.

— Because of Arians’ illness, there wasn’t much discussed about the how the game will play out in terms of snap distribution, but the first units will probably get a chunk of the first quarter you’d figure. It always depends on how they perform, but maybe two or three series, depending on the number of plays. I’d expect this game to be a lot more Drew Stanton at QB, as Carson Palmer’s big third preseason game looms and the fourth game likely will be all Matt Barkley and Jake Coker.

— Another big game for CB Brandon Williams. Also curious to see what veteran Mike Jenkins can do now that he’s back on the field, albeit with a cast.

— Another guy to watch is DT Corey Peters, who returns to a game for the first time since blowing out his Achilles after just one preseason game in 2015.

— Not only were there no fights during the two practices between the Cards and Chargers, no situation really ever came close as far as I could tell. Don’t know if it was because Arians and Chargers coach Mike McCoy made such a big deal about no fights or if the Arians situation changed how practice was approached. Question is, does Friday night get chippy at all?

— Arians has said there are four inside linebackers fighting for one spot, which includes Chargers castoff Donald Butler. But you figure the Cards are going to have Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter in there. I’m guessing Chris Clemons, who has been working behind Bucannon, likely is in. So that would leave Butler vs. Alani Fua vs. Gabe Martin vs. Lamar Louis. So again, a battle to watch.

— One more week of training camp to go. Four more open practices.


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Williams’ crash course continues in San Diego

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2016 – 10:47 am

The No. 2 cornerback for the Cardinals remains a work in progress.

Justin Bethel came off the PUP list this week but still isn’t ready to practice. Mike Jenkins finally returned to practice this week, although the surgery for a broken bone in his hand means he has to wear a cast. Meanwhile, rookie Brandon Williams remains the starter and still figures to be the best bet to be starting Sept. 11 even with his growing pains.

That’s why Williams should’ve benefited big from a couple of practices against the Chargers, to work against different receivers than just the Cardinals and to see different looks. Williams got a healthy dose of Amari Cooper last week and now Keenan Allen — who has been a tough cover in practice — was this week.

“(Brandon) is a guy who were are going to lean on in the season so we want to see how he was living, how he was going to respond when the ball is coming his way,” all-pro cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Not to toot my own horn, but after the year I had last year, if there is a rookie defensive back, nine times out of 10 they’re going to pick on the young pup. So (cornerbacks) coach (Kevin) Ross wanted to throw him into the fire and to see how he would respond.”

Peterson is right, of course. Whomever is playing across from Peterson will be targeted often. Look at what happened to Bethel late last season. That’s not going to change in 2016, whether it is Williams or Bethel or someone else.

“I can only imagine how tough it is getting 13, 14 targets a game,” Peterson said. “That’s tough for anyone. biggest thing is keeping the confidence up and relying on the technique. You are prepared for the moment, it’s just about taking what you learned on the practice field to the game. That’s the biggest thing for young cornerbacks.”


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Arians goes to hospital for stomach pains

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2016 – 6:19 pm

The Cardinals are taking part in their practice in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium, but their head coach isn’t with them. Soon after reaching the stadium, he started experiencing stomach pain and told the team’s medical staff. He was taken to a local hospital for evaluation. The Cards will provide more updates as they become available.

In the meantime, assistant head coach Tom Moore looked like he talked to the Cardinals some at the outset of practice against the Chargers, and then Chargers head coach Mike McCoy addressed both teams as a whole. The practice has gone on as planned.

UPDATE: Here is a story on Arians. There is optimism he will be OK.

UPDATE II: Arians was released from the hospital Wednesday morning and is resting at the team hotel in San Diego.

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No more PUP but still no Smoke, Nkemdiche

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2016 – 12:30 pm

The Cardinals are prepping for their night practice against the Chargers tonight and Bruce Arians delivered a bunch of injury updates, not the least of which the fact there are no more players on the physically unable to perform list. S Tyrann Mathieu, DT Frostee Rucker and CB Justin Bethel have all been put on the active roster, and while they will not practice yet — Arians said, as he did before, that they will only take part in walkthroughs and get mental reps — it’s a start.

Arians wouldn’t even say if all or some will be available Week 1 against the Patriots, although he did say Mathieu was “close.” They have to get to individual work before they even graduate to team practice.

— WR John “Smokey” Brown still has yet to be cleared after his concussion. At this point, Arians acknowledges it is a concern. The Cardinals will be smart about it, and Arians said Brown will likely sit out a couple extra days after he’s cleared just to be safe. Besides, Arians said, Brown will have to work his way back into shape anyway since he has been out so long.

— The hope is that rookie DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle) will return to practice next week, Arians said.

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Long snapper battle and a Leach sighting

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2016 – 8:45 am

The Cardinals are still looking for their long snapper, although their former long snapper is still around — at least right now.

Mike Leach, who retired in the offseason, was at the Cardinals’ preseason opener Friday night and helped this week at practice the Cardinals’ pair of undrafted rookies who are trying to claim his vacant job — Kam Canaday and Daniel Dillon. Leach was around the team some during OTAs this offseason as well, and even though he and his family have moved back east in retirement, it says something about Leach that he wants to help the Cardinals in their quest to replace him.

“Having him there … coaches will tell (players) something but when you have a guy who’s done it for 16 years, they listen a little better,” coach Bruce Arians said.

Canaday and Dillon — roomates and now close friends — will get the balance of the preseason to earn the job over the other. There was nothing remarkable about either’s work in the Raiders game, which for a long snapper is a good thing. If you don’t notice them, they are doing the job.

“It’s a heck of a battle,” Arians said. “(I will) feel very comfortable with one of them.”



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Keim: No signings, but maybe a trade?

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2016 – 8:52 am

Since training camp started, there was the possibility — given the inexperience of right tackle D.J. Humphries, and in total, the inexperience of every tackle on the roster not named Jared Veldheer — the Cardinals would bring in a veteran tackle to shore the position up. The Cards have already done that at cornerback, although rookie Brandon Williams has been basically unchallenged for a starting role. Mike Jenkins got hurt, and Alan Ball hasn’t done anything to change the equation (and Justin Bethel remains on PUP.)

After a first preseason game where both Humphries and Williams had rocky moments, might that change? General Manager Steve Keim said no. And he’s got a good reason.

“There’s nobody on the waiver wire that has these guys’ skillset,” Keim said bluntly on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “Unless you can tell me somebody we can find out there, I mean, we’re always looking at the waiver wire to try and improve this team and we’ll be aggressive and pro-active. But when you take 90 (men on a roster) and times it by 32 (teams), you tell me who’s out there, and when you look at who’s out there, why are they out there.”

Now, that might and very well could change once cuts start coming. But for now, pickings are slim.

On the other hand, Keim reiterated he and Chargers GM Tom Telesco will get together this week when the Cards and Chargers have their joint practices and discuss the two rosters, each team’s deficiencies, “in hopes where we can talk about, ‘Hey, is there an area where we can help each other improve?’ ”

Maybe that could mean a trade.

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Raiders (preseason) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2016 – 12:29 am

The score ended up ugly, but this is the preseason, where scores matter little. (I won’t say they don’t matter at all, because sometimes, they do matter if, say, the third game is lopsided.) What the Cards got out of Friday night was safety for their players, especially their starters (always always always the most important thing), decent play from said starters, and a decent outing from a couple of key guys.

Those would be Brandon Williams and D.J. Humphries, and while neither were spectacular, they held up fine. Humphries didn’t fare well against Khalil Mack, but in reality, many do not anyway. He admitted he messed up against Mack, but believes it was mostly from him being overly hyped up to play. Time will tell, but he did play better as time went on (and admittedly, after Mack went out.) Humphries hasn’t answered all the questions yet. And there is probably still a need to consider bringing in a veteran backup tackle. But I still think Humphries will be OK.

At this point, same goes for Williams. He competed again against the Raiders. He thought he was going to be tested and he most certainly was. He gave up a TD. But he battled and the kid is going to learn. We still have almost a month before the Cards play for real. If Justin Bethel gets back soon, he still has a chance to take back the starting job. But Williams will play and he will get better, and even if he is the third cornerback, the Cards will be better for it.

— We barely saw the starters. I couldn’t tell you really what Chandler Jones had. Carson Palmer had a near-pick early with pressure in his face, but he led a scoring drive. The Cardinals have to get the ball in the end zone after getting a first down inside the 10, but that should come.

— David Johnson looked like he was in midseason form already. Midseason form during a really good season.

— Andre Ellington showed again why the Cards have liked him so much. Health makes a big difference.

— If the Cards can get that out of tight end Troy Niklas, he’ll be the guy they expected with a second-round pick. Again, health matters.

— Drew Stanton was high on some throws, and hopefully that was just first-game issues. I’m sure Arians was hoping to see more from Matt Barkley. I would expect Stanton and then Palmer to eat up most of the QB playing time the next two games, so we’ll see how many more opportunities Barkley gets in game situations.

— The Cards are off Saturday, and get back to practice Sunday morning. Remember, no open practice at University of Phoenix Stadium until after the Chargers game.


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Thursday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2016 – 7:09 pm

The Cardinals finally have a game to play.

The preseason opener will start a week that will feature two games and a week in San Diego, plus a couple of practices against the Chargers. First though come the Raiders, which will be a typical preseason matchup — a handful of snaps for the main vets, and then a training ground for the inexperienced.

Some thoughts as we head into the first game:

— Yes, you are going to watch D.J. Humphries at right tackle, which is how it should be. But I think I’m more interested in Brandon Williams at cornerback. Humphries is important, but he at least already played four preseason games a year ago. He’s done this. Williams not only is a rookie but he’s still only about a year into playing the position. Plus, it just feels — at least to me — that his performance will end up playing a larger role in the outcome of this team than Humphries.

— That doesn’t mean Humphries isn’t one to watch (or isn’t important for the outcome of this season.) He’s already a pretty good run blocker, and he’s shown a want-to that was missing a year ago. I’m not saying Humphries is ready to be an all-pro, but I think as a replacement for Bobby Massie, he will be fine.

— Some other new (and returning) players I’ll be watching: CB Alan Ball, CB Harlan Miller, G Antoine McClain, all the ILBs not named Kevin Minter — that’s a wide-open battle — TEs Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah, and WR Chris Hubert.

— Matt Barkley is going to get a lot of playing time. We’ll see if he can leave an impression.

— And as always, let’s just not have anyone get too banged up.


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Tillman “A Football Life” debuts Oct. 28

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2016 – 7:57 pm

NFL Films is rolling out a new round of its excellent series “A Football Life.” Last season it was the Bruce Arians story. Kurt Warner got one before that. Now, it will be the Pat Tillman episode. It will debut Oct. 28 on the NFL Network at 6 p.m. Arizona time (9 p.m. ET). Yes, I’m sure it’ll be on the web at some point. No, they didn’t way when.

NFL Films is also doing a new series called “The Timeline,” which chronicles moments that have helped shape the NFL in one way or another. The debut episode on Sept. 9 will be”9/11,” about how the NFL dealt with the crisis of Sept. 11, 2001. I remember it well, since I was in my second season covering the Cardinals. With an odd number of teams at the time, there was a bye every week, and the Cardinals — not a good team at the time — actually had their bye date to open the 2001 season. So the league started play Sept. 9 while the Cards waited for their “opener,” scheduled for Sept. 16 in Washington against the Redskins.

That Tuesday, tragedy happened. The games the following weekend were canceled, although it took a little time to make that call. And, to bring this post full circle, while I watched the aftermath of the Towers falling on TV while sitting in the media room at the Cardinals’ complex, Pat Tillman sat next to me — a story I have written about many times. It’s a story I told during an NFL Films interview for the Tillman “A Football Life.” We’ll see if it’s included.



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Goodwin to call plays Friday, and the “out” list

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2016 – 12:41 pm

Every preseason, Bruce Arians — who is the Cardinals’ playcaller and has been and always will be, as long as he’s coaching — turns the reins over to offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin to call plays. It’s to get Goodwin experience in the area, as Arians tries to prep him for a future head coaching job. This preseason, Goodwin will call plays (and gameplan, such that it is in the preseason) in three of the four games. The only one Arians will take is the third one, of course, the “most important” of the preseason games.

So what will that make Arians Friday night?

“Bored,” he deadpanned.

Arians loves to call plays. “That’s the fun in coaching for me,” he said. But he’s committed to helping coaches — in this case, Goodwin — grow. Exactly what will Arians do on the sideline? “Deciding if we are going for it on fourth,” Arians said. “Or go for two. Tough job. Someone has to do it.”

Arians also acknowledged it’ll free him up to bark at the officials too. But that’s something Arians is never going to give up.

UPDATE: Goody weighed in. “I love him for it,” said Goodwin, who also called the plays in three of the four preseason games in 2015. “He’s been a mentor for me since 2007, back in Pittsburgh. He’s always put me in a position to learn and grow as a coach. For him to do this for me is special. Tells me he thinks a lot of me, and I don’t ever want to disappoint him.”

Goodwin said he’s learned his lesson about taking shots down the field as a play caller as well. “The first time I called plays a couple years back, the halftime speech he gave me, it wasn’t very nice,” Goodwin said. “It was still professional, but he said ‘You’ve got to call more shots.’ ”

— The list of players officially not playing Friday against the Raiders because of injuries: Everyone on the PUP list, of course, plus CB Asa Jackson, CB Mike Jenkins, WR Smokey Brown, OL Earl Watford, OL Taylor Boggs, DT Corey Peters, LB Alani Fua, DT Robert Nkemdiche and WR Brittan Golden, who hurt his hamstring Tuesday.

Arians said CB Cariel Brooks, WR Jaxon Shipley and DT Olsen Pierre are all questionable right now. The Cards are hurting at receiver and cornerback, but “it’s a great opportunity for the ones that are out there,” Arians said.

— Watford is on crutches after hurting his knee, but Arians estimated he’d only be out a couple of weeks. Even if it’s a little longer, the good news is that Watford isn’t seriously hurt. He’s become important, as a guy who can legitimately play all five spots, as the top backup offensive lineman.

“His value is sometimes higher than a starter,” Arians said.



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