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Depth spills on two fields (and other OTA notes)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2015 – 10:52 am

The Cardinals opened the final week of OTAs Monday (the mandatory minicamp is next week, and then the players are off until training camp.) Nothing eventful, although the rising temperatures played into some mistakes late, coach Bruce Arians said. Some tidbits from the day:

— The depth on the front seven — or maybe the uncertainty — has been on display because of the second practice field. Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, defensive end Ed Stinson and newly crowned linebacker Kareem Martin are all taking reps on the second field even though all figure to be a part of the rotation.

“I wants those guys to get more reps too,” Arians said of having them on Field Two. “But that is the depth we have. Those positions right now, it’s a dogfight.”

— The Cardinals were working on the no-huddle a lot Monday, and Arians said he thinks the offense will use it more often this season. (More on the subject soon in Kyle Odegard’s notebook on the homepage.) At this point, with Carson Palmer still not taking part in 11-on-11, he can’t work in that facet of the no-huddle.

— Arians was asked about Larry Foote’s timetable if he wanted to give up coaching and try to play again. Arians said Foote would have to make a decision by the time training camp were to begin. Foote said the other day he was only thinking about coaching at this point.

— RB Kerwynn Williams is out right now with a hamstring issue, joining the same rookies who have been out: OLB Zack Wagenmann (foot) OLB Shaq Riddick (hamstring) ILB Alani Fua (foot). Riddick tried last week one day to give it a go but ended up sitting out again. Arians said there is no question the fifth-round pick is falling behind. “You can’t make any progress in the training room,” Arians said.

— Arians clarified his comment that first-round pick D.J. Humphries was a little immature at this point. “You’d like to see steady improvement,” Arians said. “He’s only 20, 21 years old. He’s a college kid still and this is a professional league. But he’s figuring it out fast.”

— A couple of quality Arians quips today. On whether he can wide receiver John Brown has added some muscle. “I don’t know. He’s still little.” And when he was asked how much rookie running back David Johnson might take off the plate of Andre Ellington, Arians said “Dave is not in the picure yet,” adding, “he ain’t getting s*** yet.”

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New DC could impact Cardinals on the nose

Posted by Darren Urban on January 16, 2015 – 1:56 pm

I don’t think we’ll be hearing anything about the Cardinals’ vacant defensive coordinator job until next week (the coaches remain off, although former defensive coordinator/new Jets coach Todd Bowles did drop by Thursday and again Friday as he settled his affairs with the organization and said goodbyes.) We’ll wait to see if the Dick LeBeau rumors come to pass of him joining the Cardinals’ staff, and who else might be impacted (if LeBeau is a consultant, does outside linebackers James Bettcher become defensive coordinator? Or defensive backs coach Nick Rapone? Or someone else?)

What kind of scheme the Cardinals use will be the first question everyone will want to know, and if LeBeau arrives, whether it’s he dealing with what the Cardinals have been running or vice versa. The scheme of LeBeau and the scheme of Bowles have some parallels but they were definitely different — especially up front, where LeBeau (and disciple Ray Horton when he was DC of the Cardinals) look to have the linemen “two-gap” and allow the linebackers to roam and make plays. Bowles was willing to let his lineman just head one way and make a play. It’s a big reason why Darnell Dockett was so happy when Bowles arrived, as I mentioned the other day, although LeBeau had used more one-gap in the last couple of years and let his 3-4 ends rush the passer more often.

Either way, a good nose tackle is important. And the Cardinals face a crucial offseason when it comes to their nose tackles. Starter Dan Williams is an unrestricted free agent. Alameda Ta’amu, who had a disappointing season coming off a torn ACL, is a restricted free agent. Ta’amu is an interesting case, because he played well in 2013 and can be kept for a minimum of a restricted free agent tender offer. He didn’t tear up his knee until the season finale in 2013 and it wasn’t that shocking he was slow to recover, but the Cardinals were still expecting more from him this season. (It’s notable that LeBeau’s Steelers cut Ta’amu last year, which is how the Cardinals got him off waivers in the first place.)

Williams is more dicey. I’d think the Cardinals want him back. Williams said he would like to be back, but again, this is about money. What will the open market bring for Williams? Williams played pretty well this season and his weight isn’t the issue it used to be. But there is already a ton of money tied up in the defensive line (at least for now) with Calais Campbell and Dockett, and that also must fit into the equation. There was a reason the Cards drafted two defensive linemen last year.

Ed Stinson and veteran Tommy Kelly can play inside but it is Williams and/or Ta’amu who are the true nose tackles on the roster for now. Someone will need to be there in May too. If it isn’t Williams, can it be Ta’amu? Or someone else?

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Palmer inactive; Rucker to play

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2014 – 11:28 am

Carson Palmer will not be the backup quarterback today. Not surprisingly, he is inactive for a second straight game. Defensive end Frostee Rucker, coming back from a calf injury, is active so that will help on the defensive line. Actually, there are no surprises on the inactive list today really, taking away some of the 90-minute-before-drama that has been there the last first two games. Tight end Rob Housler (hip) will sit today, so Darren Fells gets into his first NFL game. DT Alameda Ta’amu is sitting but since the Cards are trying to hard to generate a pass rush, I’d guess an extra body is favored there over another run stuffer.

The full inactive list:

— Palmer (shoulder)

— P Dave Zastudil (groin)

–LB Victor Butler

— LB Glenn Carson

— LB Alex Okafor (thigh)

— Ta’amu

— Housler (hip)

TE Vernon Davis (ankle) is inactive for the 49ers, as is starting tackle Anthony Davis (hamstring) and No. 2 tight end Vance McDonald (knee). Given the Cards’ issues with tight ends, avoiding both is a big deal.


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Game day for Andre and Saturday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2014 – 3:02 pm

Will he or won’t he? I’m sure the last thing the Cardinals wanted going into the opener was having their key offensive piece be a game-day decision, but that’s where we are left with running back Andre Ellington and his pesky foot problem. Bruce Arians said Ellington did enough in practice Saturday (pictured right) to convince him that Ellington could possibly play Monday, so there is that.

“We can’t worry about injuries,” Arians said. “Nobody cares but us.”Andre3MAINblog

Even if he doesn’t play, the beat moves on. If you look at the key guys not playing in total that you had hoped would – Washington and Mathieu and Dockett and Cooper, aside from Ellington – it can be a daunting list. But these are things that don’t make Bruce Arians flinch. He will forever have that 2012 season with the Colts burned on his brain, when everyone seemed to get hurt for Indy (except for Andrew Luck) and they still won 11 games. That will be the memory Arians will fall back upon, and why his “Next Man Up” battle cry isn’t just lip service. Whether the Cardinals can too make it work, we’ll see. The Chargers are just the first in a tough schedule.

— Punter Dave Zastudil was added to the injury list as questionable Saturday with a groin injury. That’s not good, obviously. The Cardinals did cut linebacker Desmond Bishop Saturday, so maybe the Cardinals fill that spot with a new punter if Zastudil can’t go. (Kicker Chandler Catanzaro punted once last season in college at Clemson.)

— If I had to pick just one major key to the game Monday, I’d have to go with the pressure the Cardinals need to put on Philip Rivers. There are other important aspects, of course. The Cardinals need to show they can stop the run again, and they need to protect Carson Palmer as promised. But after the vanilla preseason, it’s important that the Cards can hurry Rivers in the pocket. Once in a while without a blitz, preferably.

— Here is not a surprise in the least: The presence of new left tackle Jared Veldheer has completely changed the tension level for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.

“For me, for Carson, it’s about being comfortable,” Goodwin said. “For me, I can worry about other things. I don’t have to worry about chip-help for the tackle all the time. That relieves a whole lot of stress.”

No question Veldheer gives the Cardinals something Levi Brown simply did not, and that Bradley Sowell can not. In the end, Veldheer is seen by many fans as a savior to that position, although Veldheer isn’t all that comfortable with the notion.

“I guess that’s an OK thing, but to me, the biggest thing is being accountable to the guys on the line and the offense and the team,” he said. “And that’s me doing my job.”

— Got a chance to catch up briefly with Darnell Dockett yesterday, and he was as Darnell as always. He’s already pushing himself hard on his knee, even this early.

“You put the time in, got nothing else to do,” he said. “My coaches are supporting me, they know my work so they give me the green light to do everything I can to come back faster. There can’t be a better situation other than not being in this situation in the first place.”

— I’ve had many people ask me what the ramifications might be for suspended linebacker Daryl Washington if the new drug policy – rumored to be close – is passed. The truth is, I have no idea. Part of the problem is that it hasn’t publicly been said why Washington was suspended. He said in his statement it was for marijuana, but you’d need more details than that. Let’s put it this way, first this new policy actually has to be put in place – and it hasn’t yet. I still wouldn’t hold my breath for Washington even if it does.

— It’ll be an emotional night Monday. Aside from the game itself and the knowledge it is on national television, Kurt Warner gets inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime. I’d guess there will be some well-remembered highlights played too. Don’t leave your seats.

— Carparks open at 3 p.m. Monday. Don’t forget your clear bags.

— With all the Ellington news, the possibility of Tyrann Mathieu playing has seemingly been pushed to the background. I still think the Cardinals are going to err on the side of caution and keep him out for now, but Arians said again it’ll be a game-day thing.

— Crazy to think Alameda Ta’amu is fine after tearing his ACL in the 2013 season finale, but the nose tackle should be in the defensive line rotation and his biggest issue is his stamina. “He’s full go. He runs on and off the field and gets out of gas. That’s a lot of ass to carry back and forth out there.”

So, on that note, on to Monday night.

 


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Wednesday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 27, 2014 – 9:47 am

The fourth preseason game is what it is. Teams are leery about playing anyone of any starting importance, because whatever little you might gain in a few more game reps is highly outweighed by the opportunity to get injured. How the actual game plays out — like the Cardinals going against the Chargers — means nothing. This one may mean even less, since the two teams have to play their very next game against each other. No reason to show anyone anything. At all.

That being said, there are some things to watch in the game tomorrow night, thanks to injuries, a new quarterback and a couple of roster spots that look like they could go either way:

— Logan Thomas is going to get to play the whole game, for the first time in the NFL and likely for the last time in a long time. The rookie fourth-round quarterback looked really good in his debut against Houston, he looked less comfortable against Cincinnati. He gets 60 minutes now, though. Bruce Arians said he just wants to see Thomas be efficient and take care of the ball. Thomas admitted he already has become more settled now since arriving in Arizona, and he knows he’s about to sit and not play (and really, not practice much either) for a long time. He has the right attitude. There’s really nothing on the line since he’s a lock to be on this roster. Take the pressure off, and let’s see what he can do.

— Very curious to see if S Tyrann Mathieu plays. I have long felt that the Cardinals are OK in the secondary to not have any reason to want/need to rush Mathieu back. I don’t think they will rush him. The question is how comfortable/confident Mathieu is to get back into live action. This is about mental as much as physical by now.

— The other guys coming off injuries all are also worth watching. We know the story of Jonathan Cooper at this point, and dealing with his turf toe. The Cardinals are probably best suited to deal with his recovery too with the way Ted Larsen is playing. The team needs Kevin Minter at inside linebacker, and we will see how he can perform. Minter seemed very confident earlier this week. That’s a good sign. Like Mathieu, you want to see nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu in real game action — especially where he plays and how there are always bodies down by your legs — a scary thought for a guy coming off a torn ACL. Again, mental as much as physical.

— As for the battles for rosters spots, these are the ones I see out there (and the ones to watch in the game): The backup tackle spot between Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter, both who figure to start. Potter will be on the left and Sowell on the right Thursday, but it’ll be surprising if both can make the cut. The special teams/cornerback slot with Teddy Williams and Bryan McCann. It figures one will be in, the other out. McCann is a little more polished as a cornerback, but Williams definitely can be more physical. This comes down to who they like better for special teams. And then there are the many linebackers who seem to be on the bubble. Desmond Bishop. Alex Okafor. Lorenzo Alexander. Marcus Benard. Glenn Carson too. You’ve only got so many spots. Pay attention to their play.

— Finally, reports are that the Cardinals will at least work out veteran linebacker James Harrison. Sounds like it’ll be less about anything immediate and instead seeing what is available. Veteran defensive lineman Tommy Kelly may be the same situation. Something to keep in mind this time of year, signing a veteran after Week One means the salary is not guaranteed, so there will be some vets signed after the first game around the league — especially those who might not have a lot left in the tank.

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Short practice and successful Dockett surgery

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2014 – 2:21 pm

The short practice week got even shorter Tuesday when coach Bruce Arians,citing the humidity during the outside workout, ended practice about 40 minutes early. Arians also noted how few players he had practicing, which goes more toward the players who won’t be playing Thursday rather than too many injuries. In fact, Arians said there was no change on that front. He did say he broke out the two fields of work for the first time since OTAs, allowing some of the starters who don’t figure to play to get some skeleton work done while the rest of the team prepped for the Chargers, Part I.

— Arians’ update on the players who have been injured: LB Kevin Minter is ready to play. NT Alameda Ta’amu looks like he will play, as does guard Jonathan Cooper. S Tyrann Mathieu remains day-to-day and a game-day decision Thursday. As promised, Mathieu’s playing status will be mostly up to him and how he feels about playing. If those guys play, Arians figures it will be about 20 to 25 plays.

— The surgery for DT Darnell Dockett went well, Arians said. Dockett remains in Alabama, where Dr. James Andrews did the work, and will be there abut five days, Arians said. It was a “clean” ACL injury — no ancillary damage — and Arians said Dockett was doing well after trading texts. “He is in really good spirits, anxious to get back,” Arians said.

Arians’ plan to have Dockett on the sidelines for games echoes his 2012 season in Indianapolis, when he also had a player injured for the season in November who still was on the sideline every game and traveled with the team. That guy? Cornerback Jerraud Powers, now a Cardinal.

— Arians did not specify who the Cardinals were having in for a tryout Tuesday (although it’s been reported that it will be defensive lineman Tommy Kelly) but he acknowledged there would be one. That workout had not happened yet, Arians said, because of “flight problems.” It was expected to take place later in the day.

— Interesting to see the Seahawks have lost two minicamp practices in 2015 for violating the CBA with their 2014 offseason work.


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Mathieu, Ta’amu, Minter, Coop to sit

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2014 – 3:30 pm

There are only four Cardinals that are not expected to dress for the game against the Bengals tonight, and none are a surprise. It’s the two guys who just came off the PUP list — S Tyrann Mathieu and DT Alameda Ta’amu — and the two guys who didn’t practice at all last week — LB Kevin Minter (pectoral) and G Jonathan Cooper (toe). Coach Bruce Arians said this past week that both Minter and Cooper face an important (if short) week of practice if they still plan on playing in the regular-season opener.

Even though everyone else is expected to dress, how much they play will be interesting. There have been a rash of injuries across the league this weekend as all team’s play that all-important third preseason game, and it affects the season. Just ask the Rams, who have lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford for the season when he again tore the same ACL that ended his season early last year. The Cardinals need work and want to be sharp, but more crucial is making sure all the key pieces are ready to play when the regular-season starts against the Chargers in a couple of weeks.

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Arians wants Dockett on sideline for games

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2014 – 12:32 pm

Bruce Arians said he wants Darnell Dockett to get his surgery as soon as possible and get him back to the Cardinals rehabbing, because the defensive tackle will remain a big part of the team even though he cannot play.

“I plan on having him on the sidelines all year long because of his spirit and leadership,” Arians said. “It’s something we need and don’t want to lose.

“Injuries, they happen. It’s terrible for him, a great opportunity for somebody else. Frostee (Rucker) will step into that role, the young guys will step up and we’ll keep moving on like we always do. One injury is not going to change who we are and what we do.”

Arians called Dockett’s history of health — he played in 158 of 160 possible regular-season games in his first 10 seasons, plus all six postseason games — “unbelievable.”

“It just shows how hard he trains and keeps himself in top physical condition all the time,” Arians said. “Unfortuantely, it was one of those non-contact deals. You put your foot in the ground and it’s over.”

— Arians said everyone will be back at practice today save for linebacker Kevin Minter (pectoral), guard Jonathan Cooper (toe) and tackle Max Starks (ankle).

— That means center Lyle Sendlein will return after missing much of camp with a calf injury. That moves Ted Larsen out to left guard, and Arians confirmed Larsen will start at left guard Sunday night against the Bengals.

— S Tyrann Mathieu and DT Alameda Ta’amu will only do individual drills today in their first practice after coming off the PUP lists following major knee rehabs. They will work their way into practice slowly. Arians said whether one or both play in the regular-season opener will be up to their progress on the field, but clearly, both are aiming to play against the Chargers in that Monday night game.

“I want to earn my way on the field,” Mathieu said. “I don’t want anyone to give it to me.” Mathieu said he will wear a brace.

— Arians said Jay Feely will kick in the first half against the Bengals and Chandler Catanzaro will kick in the second half.


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Time for the defense to recalibrate

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2014 – 9:52 am

Perhaps the day off Tuesday came at the right time for the Cardinals. The defense can digest the season-ending injury to Darnell Dockett, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can start to sort out how exactly he will run his defense with the pieces he has left. You can sit and mull what the Cardinals don’t have now compared to 2013, but it’s a moot point.

Along the defensive line, the Cardinals are expected to add a vet to the roster (Brett Keisel went back to Pittsburgh) but veteran Frostee Rucker should end up as the starter alongside Calais Campbell and Dan Williams. There should be plenty of mixing and matching, though, with rookies Ed Stinson and Kareem Martin and now, Alameda Ta’amu, who comes back to practice today. There would have been mixing and matching even if Dockett was healthy. Getting a steady rotation on the defensive line has been one of the main themes GM Steve Keim wanted to accomplish while re-tooling the roster. The key here could be Ta’amu, because if he can return to form relatively quickly, it will impact the middle of that line.

At linebacker, there have long been concerns and whenever Kevin Minter returns to the field, that probably doesn’t go away. I thought Larry Foote played pretty well in Minnesota and it was encouraging to see newcomer Desmond Bishop do what he did in a handful of plays, but the question marks don’t go away and now you don’t have a guy like Dockett in front of them. The plus is that outside linebacker John Abraham is back (his return to practice, pictured below, was seriously overshadowed Monday by the Dockett news) but again, until he plays his way into shape, it’s tough to know what he’ll bring.

In the secondary, the Cardinals not only have all their guys still but now Tyrann Mathieu is back in the mix too. That group remains the strongest, although playing out on an island at times means they need the front seven to come through. That was a bit troubling to hear Bruce Arians talk about how many times the Cardinals did not run their blitzes correctly in Minnesota — Bowles was magical last year the way he schemed players to often get to the quarterback untouched — and that will be a key to this whole thing.

The Cardinals’ offense will be better this season and they will need to be. Regardless, the Cardinals aren’t going to get where they want to go unless the defense plays at a high level. They will have to do it differently than they once planned.

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Feely’s perfection and Arians under ice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 12, 2014 – 1:44 pm

Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro didn’t have a miss in his preseason debut. He made all three field goals, all three extra points and he was excellent on kickoffs, either driving them over the end zone or creating touchbacks or returns inside the 20. It’s veteran Jay Feely’s turn in Minnesota. So what is coach Bruce Arians looking for?

“Perfection,” Arians said.

Is that all?

Arians said that means making his kicks and having decent depth and hangtime on his kickoffs. “(Jay) has always kicked off adequately, but when someone is kicking off better and all the kicks are the same, you’re going to take the guy who is kicking off better,” Arians said.

Feely will have to kick outside in Minnesota, although Arians has said Feely will get to kick inside too, the following week against the Bengals. The kicking battle will continue to be interesting.

— Arians said yet again that fighting in practice is “not tolerable,” and that’s why Darnell Dockett and Bradley Sowell were stuck doing laps the balance of practice Monday after fighting. “You get ejected from the game (for fighting), so you get ejected from practice,” Arians said. “We practice like it’s a game every day. You lose your temper and punch a guy, you get ejected.”

— S Tyrann Mathieu and DT Alameda Ta’amu are “pretty close” to being removed from PUP and returning to practice.

— Still no rush on filling the empty three roster spots right now. “There really isn’t any need,” Arians said. “The number of players we have, to get somebody ready to play in a game that’s available right now, there’s nobody out there right now who are going to make our team better. We have our eyes on a couple guys that we will potentially bring in.”

— Interestingly, Arians called cornerback Jerraud Powers “probably our most valuable player on defense” right now because of how versatile he is in the secondary. It echoed those one-time thoughts of Ray Horton on Richard Marshall back in 2011.

— The injuries that kept a handful of players out for Monday’s practice will do the same today. That means left guard Jonathan Cooper is still out, which doesn’t help. “It’s a big deal for anyone on the club right now because the competition level is high. It’s not like anything is in cement,” Arians said. The coach added a player can definitely lose his job after getting injured. “You can if someone comes in and plays better than you were playing,” Arians said. “That’s called Wally Pipp.”

— Finally, in case you missed it, Arians took part in the viral #icebucketchallenge to raise awareness for ALS. He had been challenged by Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. Arians accepted — the idea is you get ice water dumped on you on video or you donate money to the cause — and Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer were only too happy to oblige.

“At first it wasn’t too bad,” Arians said. “That second one had too much ice in it. Thought it gave me a concussion. I wanted it to be ‘bam, bam.’ They waited too much.”

Arians challenged Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “Tomlin told me he’s not dumping water on his head so he’s going to donate money,” Arians said.


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