Coming Up

Blogs

Hoping for a return in the return game

Posted by Darren Urban on April 16, 2014 – 11:12 am

Everybody remembers Patrick Peterson’s wonderful rookie season returning punts — four touchdowns (and a fifth he should have had if not for a shoetop tackle by the punter in the finale against Seattle). Peterson averaged 15.9 yards a punt return, the Cards averaged 24 yards a kickoff return between LaRod Stephens-Howling and A.J. Jefferson and it was generally an effective use in Ron Wolfley’s beloved “transition game.” Obviously, the last couple of years, it hasn’t been quite the same.

In 2012 Peterson’s average fell to 8.4 yards a return with no scores. A dropoff was probably inevitable, but Peterson looked uncomfortable much of the time. The kick return game dropped to 23.3 yards a return, although finding a happy medium for effective kick returns in this day and age of big kickoffs and mostly touchbacks isn’t an easy equation. Last season, Peterson’s punt returns fell to 6.0. Kickoff returns were a mere 20.0, and former kick returner Javier Arenas often looked so frustrated he rarely could return one that he did so when he shouldn’t, leading to poor field position.

It’ll make for an interesting dynamic this season. Ted Ginn was signed to add speed in the receiving corps, but it’s not hard to make the argument his greatest strength as a player is on kickoff returns (where he averaged 23.8 yards a return last season). He’s also pretty good on punt returns (12.2 yards last year), and that will provide an option if Bruce Arians decides Peterson is better served focusing on being a Pro Bowl cornerback and remove the pressures of being the guy who everyone thinks might score a touchdown every time he fields a punt. Peterson doesn’t want to give up the job, but we’ll see how it turns out in the big picture.

The Cardinals’ offense was doing much better at the end of the season and should be improved given the pieces that have been added. It wouldn’t hurt if the kickoff and punt returns could chip in to the improvement equation.

PPPuntreturnuse

 


Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 30 Comments »

Jefferson traded to Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2012 – 11:38 pm

UPDATE: The trade has been officially completed. The Vikings get A.J. Jefferson. The trade involves “an exchange of undisclosed, conditional 2013 draft picks.” I’d think that would mean a swap of picks between the teams, meaning the Cards get one, the Vikings get one. We’ll find out the rounds involved as we get closer to the draft, but I can’t imagine we’re talking about high picks here. Conditional usually means it’s based on the play of the player involved, so Jefferson’s performance — or at least, the number of games he plays, or something like that — will make an impact.

Well, this is one way to relieve the logjam of defensive backs the Cards have — cornerback A.J. Jefferson tonight tweeted out he was being traded, and then tweeted it was to the Vikings. Nothing has been officially announced. Kent Somers reported draft picks are part of the equation. I would assume the trade will be announced sometime over the weekend. If Jefferson is dealt for a pick or two, it would give the Cards an open roster spot, which could be filled, for instance, with another linebacker, since the Cards are a little thin in that category right now with only seven. I’m still curious to see if the look at another offensive lineman.

It was a wild ride for Jefferson in two-plus years, from an undrafted guy that was inactive almost his whole rookie season to suddenly being a starter after the lockout to being benched halfway through last season. It seemed like his spot on the team was tenuous anyway. If the Cards decide to hang on to 10 defensive backs now — five cornerbacks, five safeties — it means, among others, that Michael Adams has once again prevailed to make the roster. There is no better story than Adams creating the kind of NFL career he has.


Tags: , , ,
Posted in Blog | 42 Comments »

Broncos (and preseason) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2012 – 12:25 am

The Cardinals avoided overtime Thursday night (thank goodness). And now the fun begins.

Final cuts are in a matter of hours, coach Ken Whisenhunt will have a press conference at 2 p.m. Arizona time. So, in the interest of getting some sleep, some highlights and thoughts from the preseason finale to tide you over until the real news tomorrow (which should be cuts and possibly could include a starting QB choice):

– Injuries probably didn’t make roster picks, but they might have cemented them. Rich Bartel was 4-for-5 before leaving with a right shoulder injury, although the way rookie Ryan Lindley performed, Lindley was probably always going to be the pick. He’s got a lot of upside. If Javarris James was in the mix at all at running back, that ended when he tore his ACL on Omar Bolden’s 103-yard kickoff return. That’s just unfortunate.

– If I had to do my 53-man roster over, I might change a couple of things. Or at least seriously consider it. Now I’m finding it hard to believe outside linebacker Quentin Groves doesn’t stick around. The other backup outside linebacker choice then would come down to Clark Haggans or Brandon Williams. In the secondary, undrafted rookie Blake Gideon got a ton of playing time, and while Rashad Johnson and Adrian Wilson sat out, I start to wonder if Gideon could have a chance to slip on the roster, in place of Johnson, maybe? And there is little question there is a decision coming between A.J. Jefferson, Greg Toler and Michael Adams. There will be some drama tomorrow.

– Ryan Williams did not play as Whiz took a long look at both William Powell and Alfonso Smith as they battle for a roster spot. Powell had 18 yards on nine carries, Smith five on five, and neither really stood out Thursday (although Powell did have a nice kickoff return late.)

– I thought Beanie Wells looked very good in his start. He had 35 yards on seven carries, although he said he needs to get better. “I have to get my leg drive and get my feet under me,” Wells said.

– LaRon Byrd had a couple of nice grabs among his three catches for 47 yards and if he didn’t solidify his spot, it’ll be because the Cards only keep five receivers. But if they keep six, he’s in, I’d think.

– Michael Floyd had an amazing touchdown catch for his first in the NFL. Ball bouncing around, Floyd grabbing it while he was hanging parallel to the ground and holding on as he crashed to the turf. “That was a much more acrobatic circus catch than I ever could have made,” fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald said. Methinks Fitz is a bit modest, but no matter. It was a great play.

– The Cards have to be thrilled with what Lindley showed, especially for a rookie and a guy they picked in the sixth round. He had a couple of clunkers (although his one interception was a mistake by receiver Isaiah Williams, who didn’t pick up a checked call at the line, and the other pick was called back with a penalty). Bhe threw the TD and threw some darts and maneuvered the Cards to a late tying drive thanks to a 56-yard bomb to Williams (pictured below). The Cards couldn’t get it in the end zone, but again, Lindley looks like he has a potential future.

– Lindley had some decent protection early with the starting offensive line (although rookie right tackle Bobby Massie did have a couple of hiccups on an early drive with a holding penalty and to get beat for sack.) Will I be surprised to see the Cards pick up an offensive lineman via waivers as teams cut? Absolutely not.

– Whisenhunt said the Cardinals haven’t ruled out using the new IR rule – which allows players with major injuries to return later in the season without taking up a roster spot – on tackle Levi Brown. The Cards will talk more about Brown’s prognosis to return. The decision has to be made by Friday afternoon.

In fact, most of the news will come down Friday afternoon. So with that, I’ll say goodnight.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 47 Comments »

A guess at the 53

Posted by Darren Urban on August 29, 2012 – 4:59 pm

Every NFL team must have it roster cuts in by Friday afternoon. To be exact, by 6 p.m. Arizona time. I expect the Cardinals – and coach Ken Whisenhunt – to have announced them before, since Whiz will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. that day. Until then, though, this is a guess at how this 53-man roster shakes out.

Whisenhunt made it clear the other day that this last preseason game does matter when it comes to a spot or two on the roster, and I believe that. It means trying to approximate who will be on the roster before that last game is somewhat fool’s gold. I’m certainly not Nostradamus here. Last year, for instance, I had Ben Graham holding off Dave Zastudil for the punter job. I was very wrong. And this only holds for as long as it might take for the Cards to claim/sign a guy or two over the weekend, which would obviously change things. That always happens.

But it’s fodder to chew on until Friday, speculation upon which this time of the NFL schedule is built around. So with apologies to those I miss on, and with a nod to old school Letterman, this is only an exhibition and not a competition, so please, no wagering.

QB – (3) John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley. No, we don’t know the starter yet. But it’s hard to believe that with everything Lindley has shown as a rookie he doesn’t get the nod over Rich Bartel (who is one of the best guys you’ll meet and someday will be a very good coach.)

RB – (4) Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams, LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell. This is one of the sticking points. Powell has had a good preseason, but as I have mentioned many times, I think Alfonso Smith has as well. It may come down to how Powell looks Thursday night. Will I be shocked if Smith is the choice instead of Powell? Nope.

FB – (1) Anthony Sherman. The Sherminator running unopposed. It’s like a boring political “race.”

WR – (6) Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet, Michael Floyd, DeMarco Sampson, LaRon Byrd. This is a close one, in my mind. The top four are obvious. I think Sampson has had a good camp and he can play special teams. Byrd versus Stephen Williams may just be about Byrd’s upside. I’m not sure Byrd would make it to the practice squad but — given some other positional issues, like, at say, offensive line – I’m not sure either if the Cards may try and keep just five receivers and use the practice squad for relief.

TE – (4) Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler, Jim Dray. Given the injury history of, well, all of them, I think the Cards play it safe and keep four guys around again.

OL – (8) D’Anthony Batiste, Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Adam Snyder, Bobby Massie, Rich Ohrnberger, Jeremy Bridges, Senio Kelemete. This is a very difficult one from the outside looking in. The Cards might keep nine linemen, given their . Has Kelemete shown enough, even as a draft pick? Would Nate Potter be possible given the tackle issues? Where might a free agent or waiver claim fit in? I could see Potter, D.J. Young and/or center Scott Wedige as practice squad material too.

DL (6) – Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, Vonnie Holliday, David Carter, Nick Eason. Seems fairly cut and dried at this position, one of the few like that.

LB – (8) Sam Acho, Paris Lenon, Daryl Washington, O’Brien Schofield, Stewart Bradley, Reggie Walker, Clark Haggans, Brandon Williams. This is another spot that might come down to the Denver game. The backup outside linebacker spot figures to have two places for three guys: Haggans, Williams, Quentin Groves. Groves made some plays early. Williams plays some special teams and has been higher on the depth chart.

DB (10) – Patrick Peterson, William Gay, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, Jamell Fleming, Justin Bethel, Rashad Johnson, James Sanders, Greg Toler, A.J. Jefferson. Usually, the Cards wouldn’t keep more than nine defensive backs, and that’s still possible. With 10, Bethel is a special teams keeper despite being a raw DB. Michael Adams is the odd man out there, but it will not shock me to see Adams stick around either and maybe someone like Jefferson out. Watching the reserve defensive backs closely in the finale, because I think that will be part of the equation.

ST – (3) Jay Feely (K), Dave Zastudil (P), Mike Leach (LS). Never should have doubted Leach’s return.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 35 Comments »

Fleming and the secondary

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2012 – 12:29 pm

Rookie Jamell Fleming isn’t going to go into a bunch of detail about his work at cornerback.

“I want to keep working hard I take pride in what I do,” Fleming said. “I want to be the best.”

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton had said he thought Fleming had hit a bit of a wall in camp. Fleming had looked good in OTAs and minicamp, so maybe a bit of a plateau was going to come. Fleming shrugged it off – “All rookies get a little wall in the way” he said. “You’ve got to push through it.” – and he certainly wasn’t bothered by the two questionable calls against him last game, one for hitting a defenseless receiver and the other for pass interference. Both calls certainly could have gone the other other way.

“Stuff is going to happen like that in the NFL, especially at corner,” Fleming said.

There is little question the third-round pick will be counted upon this season. The battle at defensive back has turned into the interesting story as expected, although I think the Cards would have liked more dynamic plays at this point to help separate people. I think right now, barring something odd, William Gay will stay as the other cornerback starter alongside Patrick Peterson. Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes are your safeties.

Then what?

At safety, veterans James Sanders and Rashad Johnson have been running as backups and special teamers, but now the Justin Bethel factor comes in. Bethel is getting some work at cornerback now as well as safety, but he will be on the roster because of special teams. Do they keep five safeties because of that? Could the Cards keep 10 instead of nine defensive backs? If so, that leaves five cornerbacks, or three to join Peterson and Gay. Fleming is on this team. So that leaves Greg Toler, Michael Adams, A.J. Jefferson and Crezdon Butler vying for two spots.

Fleming isn’t ready to step in across from Peterson, but he could end up as the nickel back.

“I think he is learning and growing, especially playing the nickel inside and playing this level of competition,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “It’ll ramp up quite a bit in the regular season. He has done a nice job from when he first came in as far as what was expected of him. He has been told he needs to get better at some things but I’ve been pleased with how he has progressed.”


Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 20 Comments »

The first depth chart

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2012 – 9:22 am

The Cardinals put out their first official depth chart of the season today. This stuff is fluid given certain competitions, but they have to make someone No. 1 and No. 2 and so on. There are no shocking developments, but:

– Kevin Kolb is listed as the No. 1 QB right now. John Skelton is the No. 2.

– Jeremy Bridges is the No. 1 right tackle over Bobby Massie, and as I have said many many many times, I expect that to be the case for a while.

– With Jeff King still rehabbing his quad, Todd Heap is the No. 1 tight end, Rob Housler No. 2.

– Behind Fitz is DeMarco Sampson and then Stephen Williams. At the other receiver spot, it officially goes Andre Roberts, then Early Doucet, then Michael Floyd.

– William Gay is the No. 1 right cornerback across from Patrick Peterson. Greg Toler is listed as Gay’s backup, with Michael Adams listed as Peterson’s backup.

– Brandon Williams is Sam Acho’s backup, with Clark Haggans as O’Brien Schofield’s backup at OLB. Quentin Groves is behind Haggans.

– With the large roster, the only second team rookies (no starters) are LG Senio Kelemete, FB Jared Crank and Massie. (And the Cards are incredibly unlikely to keep two fullbacks.) T Nate Potter is third-string, Floyd is third-string, S Justin Bethel is third-string and, with the large amount of veteran cornerbacks, Jamell Fleming is technically fourth-string behind Gay, Toler and A.J. Jefferson (although he will be on this roster, no doubt.)

Here is the entire depth chart.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 18 Comments »

Thoughts in the wake of Red-White

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2012 – 9:35 pm

The first week is over, and what stuck with me after today’s Red-White practice (while I thought about it on my drive home to see the family) was John Skelton’s comment that there was a long way to go. Cliche, sure. But it’s truth. Take away walkthroughs, which are limited in their value, and the Cards had exactly three practices before today. Did the offense or the quarterbacks wow today? No. But we’re a week away from the first of five preseason games. There’s a long, long way to go.

– I know everyone wants to make assessments of Skelton and Kevin Kolb after today. Coach Ken Whisenhunt even said Friday he expected that to happen. But Whiz also said today there would be no snap judgements. He talked about dropped passes, about missed assignments. Bottom line, and I’m sure I’m sounding like a broken record, but this will come down to preseason games. Something tells me no one is going to reference Red-White whenever the regular-season starter is named.

– I thought Michael Floyd looked pretty good today. It’s early, but that would be nice to have him emerge. He made a couple of catches and you can see why his big body works in tight coverage, blocking out the defensive back.

– Cornerback A.J. Jefferson got a lot of action today. He gave up some catches but made some other plays. He’s intriguing. He’s kind of been lost in the CB discussion with William Gay signing and Greg Toler coming back and Jamell Fleming getting drafted.

– With the NFL in the middle of using replacement officials while contract negotiations go on with the regular officials, one possible replacement would be a woman, who was working today’s Red-White practice. I didn’t get her name, but Mike Jurecki got a picture.

– The abductor injury to running back Javarris James could cause some roster movement. It’s not that I thought James necessarily was going to make the roster, but James now won’t play against the Saints in all probability, and Beanie Wells was already going to miss that game. I’m not sure they’d want to use Ryan Williams either, given their desire to be conservative. So that leaves just LaRod Stephens-Howling, Alfonso Smith and William Powell. Not that Powell can’t do it — remember, when the Cards lost Williams and wanted to protect Wells last year, Powell had an astounding 29 carries in the final preseason game (and then was cut the next day.)

– A crowd of 14,500. Simply amazing. I ran into former Cardinals wide receiver and kickoff returner MarTay Jenkins (1999-2002) who looked over the throng for autographs and said, “Damn, it was never like this for us!” Which I can say since I was covering the team back then, it wasn’t.

– Finally, there seemed to be a difference of opinion between Williams and Patrick Peterson about whether Peterson would have made the tackle on Williams during his 44-yard run. I managed to get a shot of the moment of contact. You make the call.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 29 Comments »

The work at the end of the week

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2012 – 6:41 pm

I’m not a big fan of doing any play-by-play or recaps of practice, because in the end, it just doesn’t matter. Each play is a snapshot, with little or no context. But, with the Red-White practice tomorrow — which will basically be a series of drives, offense versus defense, with play calls like it’s a game — the Cards worked on red zone and two-minute drills today. It provided some highlights.

– Tight end Rob Housler made a couple of nice catches at the back of the end zone, one time banging into the pad on the lower upright. Michael Floyd couldn’t haul in a high jump ball in the end zone, but later in the two-minute drill caught a pass while tippy-toeing toward the sideline. DeMarco Sampson beat Greg Toler in the end zone for a touchdown.

– But on the defensive side, Patrick Peterson broke up one pass over the middle, while Kerry Rhodes managed to control a bouncing, tipped pass to finally nab it for an interception.

– Interesting that, in the two-minute drill in the defense’s dime package, the defensive backs were Rhodes and Adrian Wilson at safety, and then four cornerbacks: William Gay, Peterson, Michael Adams and A.J. Jefferson. Toler worked with the second dime unit. It’s early, but these are the things you notice.

– The second unit of the offensive line during the two-minute drill were, from left tackle to right tackle, D.J. Young, Senio Kelemete, Ryan Bartholomew, Chris Stewart and D’Anthony Batiste. Eventually, Bobby Massie was put in at right tackle, Batiste slide to right guard, and Scott Wedige at center. I’ve said it a few times, but I think the wait for Massie to start will be awhile.

– Running back Alfonso Smith blew up linebacker Sam Acho on a block during the two-minute work. Smith has worked hard to earn a spot on the team, which I think is pretty assured at this point.

– If you are coming to the Red-White, don’t forget to come early. All the details are here, but last year, there were about 13,000 fans on hand.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 9 Comments »

Cornerback Fleming over OL in third

Posted by Darren Urban on April 27, 2012 – 7:54 pm

OK, the Cards didn’t take an offensive lineman in the third round. They stuck with the BPA, going with Oklahoma cornerback Jamell Fleming, who did 23 reps in the bench press and ran a 4.43 40 at the combine and basically was better than the offensive linemen available.

“We’re looking for an opportunity to address the offensive line but you don’t want to do it at the expense of other players that can bring more to your football team,” general manager Rod Graves said.

Graves said the draft isn’t the only place the Cards can look for offensive linemen, and there are still five picks left in the draft anyway. There definitely wasn’t a sense, from either Graves or Whisenhunt, that there was a tackle who tempted them when the pick came up — not compared to Fleming.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt likes what Fleming can bring not just to the secondary but also special teams, which is needed. Whiz also said last year’s draft was successful, and in part that was because the Cards didn’t reach. “We didn’t try and fit a perceived need as compared to finding a fit for you, and that’s what we see Jamell as.”

Certainly, Fleming doesn’t have any lack of confidence. He talked about getting here and being in the mix, and when he was asked about playing special teams, he said “I have a highlight reel just on special teams.” I’m guessing he’ll fit in well with the Cards’ group of defensive backs (although I can already picture Adrian Wilson rolling his eyes.)

Graves said this has nothing to do with Greg Toler’s rehab, and that Toler is on schedule to return. But with Patrick Peterson, William Gay, Toler, A.J. Jefferson, Michael Adams and Fleming, there might be some decisions to be made (although it is possible Fleming can play a little safety, a la Richard Marshall.)


Tags: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 68 Comments »

Toler signs, ready to “unleash the beast”

Posted by Darren Urban on March 27, 2012 – 3:59 pm

In the morning, Greg Toler came in for his rehab/workout carrying a big bag of Wendy’s breakfast sandwiches for the athletic trainers and teammates, and in the afternoon, the cornerback was confirming via text the news (first reported by Howard Balzer) that he had indeed signed his one-year restricted free agent tender offer, which will pay him about $1.26 million this season. (There has been no official announcement from the team.)

The text was a lot more than a confirmation on the signing, however. Clearly, Toler — who missed all of 2011 after tearing his ACL in the preseason — is anxious to play.

“Yea (I signed) and ready to unleash a year of waiting with built up emotions and hunger inside of me,” Toler wrote. “The Man above does what he does for his own reasoning.  So we just have to know he will never lead us astray. I’ve been waiting to put back on some cleats and just unleash the beast which path I was on coming into last season. Just rewind the film. It has clicked and that’s scary for a guy like me, lol. Line ‘em Up. Blessings GT28…Red Sea Let’s Get it. 2012 is our year. One play and game at a time. We do this together.”

Toler’s recovery will impact greatly what happens in the Cards’ secondary. Patrick Peterson is the clear No. 1 cornerback. Toler, who was a starter before he got hurt, should be in the mix but until he proves where he is on his reconstructed knee, A.J. Jefferson and newly signed William Gay will compete to start. Toler has made good progress, has been out running around, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be ready for training camp.


Tags: , , ,
Posted in Blog | 49 Comments »