High school coaches play a huge role in the lives of football players — and former Cardinal Adrian Wilson is going to be the keynote speaker in a first-time summit at University of Phoenix Stadium working to teach those coaches how to best guide those kids.
The event, which will be held Friday, was put together by the Arizona Foundation for Women and the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. The pilot program, called “Coaching UP,” puts in place a framework to teach healthy relationships, how to confront peer pressures, the detrimental impacts of underage drinking and substance abuse, and the trauma of head injuries sustained on the field. Coaches, athletic directors, principals and counselors from various high schools around the state will participate.
Wilson, who had his own tough times growing up before eventually making it to the NFL, makes sense as someone who can speak on the subject of making the right decisions. Not only did Wilson have a Ring-of-Honor-type career with the Cardinals, he has also become a successful businessman outside of football.
“Whenever I get the chance to speak with high school coaches, I always stress to them the importance of being a positive role model in their student-athlete’s lives, both on and off the field, as well as the importance of education,” Wilson said in a statement. “What their players will learn in the classroom can take them a lot further in life than playing sports.”
Tags: Adrian Wilson
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The Cardinals remain off (as do I) while waiting for the start of training camp at the end of the month, so now is as good a time as any to note a pair of ex-Cards who have transitioned from the NFL to a place both seemed headed for when they were still playing. Both running back Rashard Mendenhall and safety Kerry Rhodes have turned their creative sides into work in TV and film.
Mendenhall, who retired after playing one season in Arizona in 2013, arrived with a reputation of being a thinker. He had a blog on the Huffington Post, he made no secret of his love of reading, books and poetry (including writing it), and he was the kind of person whose early retirement wasn’t a big surprise. Football wasn’t going to be his defining role in life. Although it’s funny that his current work in the TV industry is for the new HBO series “Ballers,” which stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and chronicles NFL life, warts and all. Mendenhall would know, and he’s the kind of guy who feels strongly about acknowledging both the good and bad about playing in the league.
Rhodes too always seemed headed down this path. Heck, when he arrived in Arizona as part of the cluster of moves in 2010 when the Cards had to cut safety Antrel Rolle and traded Anquan Boldin, Rhodes came in with the nickname “Hollywood.” It had been given to him by Jets’ teammates, and it wasn’t necessarily meant as a compliment. Rhodes played pretty well during some down seasons — coming off a 2011 injury to be one of the bright spots of a bad 2012 — but when the Cards decided to get younger at safety after that season with a new coaching staff, both he and Adrian Wilson were let go. Rhodes never did play again, moving into the entertainment business and now set to release a documentary called “Gone in an Instant,” which goes over the pro life of former NBA star Antoine Walker and his decent into bankruptcy after a career in which he made $110 million. I’m sure there will be more. This is a guy who knows Channing Tatum of “Magic Mike” and “21 Jump Street” fame well enough that Tatum actually visited a Cardinals’ training camp practice in Flagstaff in 2012 (and appearing on Rhodes’ version of the Big Red Rage.)
Tags: Kerry Rhodes, Rashard Mendenhall
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There has been — and probably will continue to be — much debate about Patrick Peterson and where he stands among NFL cornerbacks after his 2014 season. As has been well-documented, he learned he had diabetes and he had much more of an up-and-down season than anyone would have liked. Bruce Arians talked about how Peterson’s weight is in a better place, and Peterson looked sharp during offseason work.
“I didn’t like the way I played last year so I wanted to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Peterson said at the end of minicamp. “I feel like 2011 Patrick. I feel rejuvenated.”
Even with uneven play in 2014, he was still voted to the Pro Bowl, in part because of the respect he has from his peers. Along those lines, Peterson again was voted — through a player tally — into the NFL Network’s Top 1oo players list this year. Peterson was unveiled as the No. 19 player Wednesday night, which was actually a jump of three places from his spot at 22 last season. It puts him ahead of both Seattle safety Earl Thomas (who was No. 21) and Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden (No. 23), which I’m sure in both cases will lead to debate. Darrelle Revis was No. 17. As for Richard Sherman, he was voted at No. 11.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Darrelle Revis, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman
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Anyone who has watched much of the Cardinals the past two seasons knows the defense liked to blitz. So this recent tweet carries with it little surprise in the context of the NFL:
Over the past 2 seasons the Cardinals have blitzed (brought 5 or more rushers) 97 more times than any other team. pic.twitter.com/lGiUmkHaJY
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 24, 2015
It was the hallmark of then-defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Bring the heat, let it all sort itself out in the end. It’s why the Cardinals went for Antonio Cromartie last offseason — they wanted those press man-to-man corners to be able to survive on an island. It’s a byproduct too of not having that dynamic edge pass rusher to cause problems with a “normal” four-man rush. Now you can argue in this day and age that even bringing five rushers isn’t exactly a blitz, but there were plenty of times the Cards brought at least six guys too.
What happens now? The feeling is that the defense, even under James Bettcher, won’t change a lot. That would include the blitzing. I mean, the Cardinals still don’t have that 14-sack guy coming from the outside (although maybe Alex Okafor can raise his production from his somewhat surprising eight-sack total last season.) The pressure will still have to be manufactured through scheme, it would seem. How Bettcher calls a game won’t be known for real until the Cards open against the Saints Sept. 13 (and what a passing offense to open against.)
Certainly, I’d think Bowles will take his blitzing to New York. But it’s hard to imagine that aggressiveness — which has served the Cardinals well — is going away under Bettcher.
Tags: Alex Okafor, James Bettcher, Saints, Todd Bowles
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It’s been a rough year-plus for John Abraham. The former Cardinals linebacker, who suffered a season-ending concussion in the opener last year, was a free agent after the season. I’ve gotten a few questions if there was a chance he would return. I’ve said more than once he wouldn’t be coming back — it didn’t make much sense, and that’s assuming doctors cleared him after saying he needed at least a year off because of his head — but the news last night that Abraham is wanted on a battery charge after allegedly hitting a business associate seems to cement the end of Abraham’s NFL career.
After his 11½ -sack season in 2013 for the Cardinals, Abraham didn’t participate in OTAs in 2014. Then he wasn’t at the start of training camp, showing up more than two weeks late saying he had to deal with personal issues. It also came out that Abraham had been arrested for a DUI in Georgia in late June. He geared up for the season, but against the Chargers in the opener, he got a concussion. It was bad enough that he briefly considered retirement before changing his mind (which was smart, because he could then collect his salary.) The concussion led doctors to tell Abraham he needed to take at least a year off from the game.
In his 15-year career, Abraham had 133½ sacks.
Tags: John Abraham
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It seems counter-intuitive, honestly. You want your highest-paid wide receiver to at least have a chance to receive when you are throwing a pass right? But profootballfocus.com (and more specifically, PFF writer Sam Monson) tweeted that it was Larry Fitzgerald who led all NFL wide receivers in snaps in pass protection last season, with seven. In other words, seven times last season when the Cardinals dropped back to pass, Fitz was used to block and not go out for a pass. (For comparison’s sake, Monson notes that Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was used in pass pro only 13 times, while new Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, playing for the Saints, was used in pass pro 27 times.)
This all folds into the story of Fitz’s evolving role since Bruce Arians arrived. He plays the slot a lot more often. He’s asked to block more than he ever has (and he’s become a pretty good blocker too, especially in the run game.) It’s not Fitz’s first choice, which I’m sure isn’t a surprise to anyone. But he’s clearly come to terms with where he is in his career and with this team, because otherwise, he wouldn’t have made sure he returned.
Tags: Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Larry Fitzgerald
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So, before it’s time to take leave for a bit, we come to the second part of the “for what it’s worth” posts. Yesterday, it was the defense. Today, the offense, which starts with a healthy Carson Palmer, always a good thing. This team should be in a better place offensively this season, if for no other reason than the system is set and the offensive line should be better than it’s been overall in a long time. Of course, the Cards have to show it. And Palmer needs to stay on the field.
QB — Carson Palmer. Whatever else the Cardinals might have done on the field this offseason, just having Palmer back and working in 11-on-11 by the end would deem it a success. We’ll see how it plays out in camp — and more importantly, the first preseason game he takes part in — but it’s important that he is on track to be the starter.
RB — Andre Ellington. Rookie David Johnson should end up playing a role and could end up as a key on offense. But right now, all things still figure to go through Ellington to begin with. The entire running back situation is an interesting one. Will the offensive line upgrade trickle down to help this position? How might Kerwynn Williams fit in? The Cards just want Ellington to stay healthy, and see what that means.
WR — Larry Fitzgerald. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact, after another year under 1,000 yards, that Fitz was really clicking with Palmer before Palmer got hurt. If the two vets can play together, I’m curious to see what Fitz’s numbers can be, even in this system when not one receiver figures to dominate the stat sheet.
WR — Michael Floyd. It’s a big year for Floyd. The quarterback situation did not help last season, but there were times even when Palmer played where, for whatever reason, Floyd didn’t produce. Sometimes, that was a lack of targets. The Cards certainly have other options too. But the former No. 1 draft pick needs to make a greater impact.
WR — John Brown. In this setup, the Cards go three wide receivers (I’ll hit the tight ends in a minute.) Brown has added a little muscle and had strong self-awareness of what happened to him last season, including wearing out at the end of the season. Palmer can’t say enough good things about Brown, with whom he developed a strong bond with last summer. Smokey will get his chances.
TE — Darren Fells. Troy Niklas is going to be in this mix and when the Cards go two tight ends on running downs, Niklas will likely join Fells. But right now, with Niklas still trying to get healthy, it is Fells who as emerged out of a very inexperienced tight end room. One caveat: Can’t exclude the possibility of the Cards signing a veteran at the position, which could change this dynamic.
RT — Bobby Massie. D.J. Humphries is making strides, but as of now, it’s hard to see Humphries surpassing Massie. Things could change when the pads go on. Another possibility is if Humphries makes enough strides, maybe Massie is a guy who the Cards would consider trading, especially if another team loses a tackle in injury in camp. But if Massie is around for the first game, I think he starts.
RG — Jonathan Cooper. He’s in great shape. He doesn’t have any of the issues left from a broken leg or turf toe or any of the other problems he might have had. If Cooper is going to become the player the Cardinals hope he can be, this is the season he needs to do it. His confidence clearly has never been higher, and he comes across as a different player than he was at this time last year. A big, big camp awaits.
C — A.Q. Shipley. This is an interesting spot. Shipley and Ted Larsen will battle in camp. OTAs and minicamp are what they are, but Shipley was the one getting more first-unit snaps by the end and he has history with both Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. This will come down to how Shipley and Larsen perform in games. (And if they both struggle, I wouldn’t completely write off the idea of a Lyle Sendlein return either, as long as he remains a free agent.)
LG — Mike Iupati. For a second straight year, the big free-agent purchase was an offensive lineman. Iupati’s reputation is that of excellent run blocker and a guy who needs to work on his pass blocking. Iupati certainly looks the part, and it will be fun to watch him in pads during camp and see what collisions develop.
LT — Jared Veldheer. The Cardinals wanted a left tackle and after one season, it looks like they have gotten a pretty good one.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Andre Ellington, Bobby Massie, Carson Palmer, D, Darren Fells, J. Humphries, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Ted Larsen, Troy Niklas
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Still no news on the Daryl Washington suspension front, although XTRA 910’s Mike Jurecki reported today that he actually has traded text messages with Washington and that the linebacker texted that he is “confident something will work out” for his return. Jurecki also reported Washington texted he was planning on being ready for training camp. Jurecki also said Washington told him he hasn’t gotten any word from the league about his reinstatement, so I would take that to mean Washington has indeed applied for reinstatement.
Again, Washington must first be reinstated from his current indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Once that happens, the league will address whatever punishment he might get for his assault conviction last year (which is now officially in the books as a misdemeanor.) The Cardinals also have to figure out what they want to do with Washington once all that comes to pass — it is still not a lock Washington will be welcomed back even once his suspension is lifted.
Tags: Daryl Washington
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The end of the offseason comes with it lots of speculation and analysis. That’s par for the NFL course these days, when even the parts that don’t mean a ton get parsed and dissected. The on-field work of OTAs and minicamp is the ultimate in that regard. Once, when the CBA was different and the league was different, minicamp was about pads and training camp got a brief yet important head start (ask Ron Wolfley.) Now minicamp, other than extra time on the field, is no different from OTAs in terms of (non-)contact and what it means. Shorts are shorts, and football isn’t played in shorts.
So when I get to this point in the offseason, when I put out my best guess at the starting 11 for the Cardinals when the regular season opens Sept. 13 before I take some vacation, it comes with the caveat: So much is still to be learned in training camp. At this point last year, Jonathan Cooper was a virtual lock to start at left guard, for instance. We know how that turned out.
That said, here are my thoughts on the defense. Offense will be posted tomorrow. Something to chew on while the temperature sizzles outside and the players get down time until the very-late July report day. One point to note — the Cardinals do open against the Saints, so the actual starting lineup may actually be the nickel sub-package or something like that. For this exercise, we’re going base defense:
(UPDATE: Here is the offense.)
DE — Frostee Rucker. The Cardinals are going to rotate their defensive linemen a lot (except for maybe Calais Campbell) but the veteran Rucker should be in the game to start. He was dropped into that role in training camp last year after Darnell Dockett got hurt and had a solid season.
NT — Corey Peters. Peters isn’t built the same as departed nose tackle Dan Williams, but the Cardinals are counting on him to have a similar impact. One of the reasons Williams was allowed to leave was because he wasn’t going to play the amount of snaps needed to give him the money he could make on the open market. Peters is a little more versatile. It’ll be interesting to see where someone like undrafted rookie Xavier Williams could eventually fit into this equation.
DE — Calais Campbell. He’s the Pro Bowler of the front seven and the guy who Bruce Arians wants to lead this defense. Interesting that a couple pof times Arians has talked about Campbell finding more consistency in his high play. If Campbell gets there, the Cards’ defense will be in good shape.
OLB — LaMarr Woodley. This is a big wild card going into training camp. Lorenzo Alexander has been with the first unit alongside Alex Okafor, but I think Woodley — or someone — finds a way to supplant Alexander by the time training camp ends. Maybe it would be rookie Markus Golden who pairs with Okafor. Maybe, since it’s the Saints in the first game, DE-turned-OLB Kareem Martin gets a shot. But right now, I’ll guess Woodley.
ILB — Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon has to stay healthy, but if he is, he joins Campbell and Patrick Peterson as the three absolute locks to start.
ILB — Kevin Minter. He won’t play if the Saints run three and four receivers out there constantly, but Minter will be that run stopper inside in a season that really becomes ultra-important. He sat as a rookie because of Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby. His play last season was undercut by a training camp pectoral injury he played through. He’s healthy now, and needs to show why he was a second-round pick.
OLB — Alex Okafor. Okafor has gotten plenty of praise from Arians, who thinks Okafor would have gotten double-digit sacks (he had eight) had he just been healthy for all 16 games. Okafor probably isn’t the long-term dynamic pass rusher the Cards still need, but he has shown he can pressure the quarterback, and that makes him very valuable.
CB — Patrick Peterson. For whatever the reasons might have been, Peterson did not play as well in 2014 as the Cardinals needed or how anyone expected. Time to right that wrong. Peterson looked fit and active in the offseason work, which was a good sign.
CB — Jerraud Powers. There is still a chance Justin Bethel has a great camp and passes up Powers for a starting job, but in the end I expect Powers to be the guy. Arians has said good things about him constantly, and the Cards like his smarts on the field.
SS — Deone Bucannon. For a good chunk of offseason work, it was Bucannon and Rashad Johnson on the field with the first team base defense, with Tyrann Mathieu coming off the bench. But I think Mathieu will be a guy the Cards want to have on the field at all times, and right now, I think they’d like to find a way for Bucannon to have a role at safety. Now, the Cards will want to use Johnson — the on-field coach of the secondary, if not the defense — but I think it’ll be more like the role Johnson had in 2013 once Mathieu took his starting spot.
FS — Tyrann Mathieu. Again, the Cards have depth at safety. There will be times when Bucannon plays some linebacker in sub-packages and the Cards use Mathieu, Johnson and Tony Jefferson on the field at the same time. Arians has stressed the Cards want the best 11 on the field for each particular play. But a healthy, playmaking Mathieu is going to get a lot of snaps.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Calais Campbell, Corey Peters, Deone Bucannon, Frostee Rucker, Jerraud Powers, Kevin Minter, LaMarr Woodley, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Sean Weatherspoon, training camp, Tyrann Mathieu
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Every year the website profootballfocus.com compiles a list of players it dubs “secret superstars” — guys who are under the radar but have the potential to break out in some way, shape or form. Their choice for the Cardinals is tight end Darren Fells, which makes a lot of sense given the circumstances.
It’s pointed out that Fells does his best work as a blocker, and at this point, it’s obvious that is what Bruce Arians is looking for first from his tight ends. What strikes me is Fells’ possibility as a leader at the position. Fells is modest, in keeping with his humble NFL beginnings being late to the party after playing professional basketball overseas. He is still inexperienced but he isn’t young — he’s 29 — and the tight ends room needs a voice now that John Carlson has retired. He is definitely playing with more confidence now than he did when he showed up in 2013 or even late last season when he was getting some playing time.
“Superstar” is a loaded term. Fells isn’t going to turn into Antonio Gates. (At least, I don’t think he will.) The Cardinals will need more from the position. Troy Niklas, another blocker-first, is a guy who has to come along, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see GM Steve Keim bring in a veteran tight end when training camp begins. But on a team that needs steady tight end play, I think PFF is on the right track in pegging Fells as a guy who can deliver.
Tags: Darren Fells, Pro Football Focus, Steve Keim, Troy Niklas
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