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Questions at tight end

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2013 – 9:13 am

When Bruce Arians walked in the door, one of the first things he emphasized was that he was a two-tight end man.

The tight end was a key in his offense. Fullbacks were unnecessary (and in this case, a surprising bargaining chip of the offseason, after Anthony Sherman was traded for the impressive cornerback Javier Arenas.) The roster was shaped, a (seventh-round) draft pick was spent on a tight end and Arians went about building his offense. As training camp comes to a close, tight end remains important to the Cardinals. But questions swirl around the position, especially since they are so important.

Tight end starts with Rob Housler. He’s had a quiet preseason, but Arians said that is because he wanted to look at other players. “It’s more blocking and I think he’s improved tremendously,” Arians said. “He’s had some he could have finished better, but I think he’s improved in his all-around. We know he can run and catch. We’ve got a bunch of packages where we can feature him. He’s a given to me. I don’t need to see that part.”

Housler will be a given as receiver (and in my opinion, he has improved as a blocker.) Beyond him? Right now, factoring in practice reps, health, production, the under-the-radar Jim Dray is No. 2. Dray is fascinating in some regards. The one-time seventh-rounder keeps sticking around, an excellent special teams player under Ken Whisenhunt and now the kind of guy drawn up perfectly for Arians — with the ability to drop into the backfield as an H-back/fullback if needed. Veteran Jeff King was supposed to be in the mix, but continuing knee troubles have kept him sidelined a ton, and you have to wonder about his future. Kory Sperry was impressing Arians early and he’ll need to be around.

D.C. Jefferson, the seventh-round rookie, looks the part and seems like he has promise. But he is so raw he may be better suited to the practice squad, if he can clear waivers. I’m not sure Mickey Shuler has made enough in-roads to stick around.

You figure the Cards need at least four tight ends on the active roster. Tight end remains, in my mind, the number one position Steve Keim will watch as cuts are made across the league. While it’s no lock the Cards claim/sign another tight end, it wouldn’t be surprising at all. It’s too important to Arians not to keep searching.

TEblogUSE


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With Sherman swap, the shuffling continues

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2013 – 11:39 am

So Anthony Sherman is gone, a victim of a regime change more than anything else, with his trade to K.C. today in exchange for cornerback Javier Arenas. This is what happens when new coaches come in (and obviously, both the Chiefs and Cards have new coaches) and existing players are deemed expendable. In Sherman’s case, he plays a position that isn’t used in Bruce Arians’ offense. In Arenas’ case, the Chiefs had brought on a bunch of cornerbacks and he was looking to be moved, although he comes to a team with a ton of potential cornerbacks as well — in addition to a safety (Tyrann Mathieu) who could end up playing slot receivers like Arenas is best suited for. Arenas came into the league in the 2010 draft.

ESPN scout Matt Williamson tweeted this about Arenas: “Pure slot CB-Size hurts him, but fiesty & big time asset on special teams.” It’s a crowded secondary now. Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason, Justin Bethel, Jamell Fleming and Bryan McCann all have experience in the league and now Arenas comes aboard. Someone isn’t making it to September (unless the Cards end up sliding Bethel back to safety to ease the logjam.)

More importantly, it’s yet another move as General Manager Steve Keim continues to overhaul the roster with Arians’ vision of what he needs. The Cardinals currently have 88 players on the roster and 45 of them are new. Now, 25 of them are rookies so they were going to be new regardless. But the number of veterans — veterans that played large roles on the team last year — that have been cut or traded continues to move up. The transactions list has a ton of action, and May just started.  I count 31 moves where the Cards either made a trade, signed a veteran from outside the team or released a player.

(And to think, when Arenas lined up against Larry Fitzgerald during the Cards-Chiefs joint practice last August, you think either one contemplated being teammates?)

ArenasBlogUSE


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Versatility and Sherman’s fullback future

Posted by Darren Urban on March 26, 2013 – 4:30 pm

My question was about philosophy on tight ends, but the first response was about fullbacks, and that made everyone take notice.

“I’m not a fullback guy. I never have been,” Bruce Arians said, and anyone who knew the Cardinals immediately thought of Anthony Sherman. Sherman was the Cards’ fullback the past two years, a piece in Ken Whisenhunt’s offense as a blocker, really, and also a key guy on special teams. Sherman was good enough on teams to be named a captain, and that alone might provide hope for Sherman going forward, even after Arians’ blunt analysis.

This doesn’t have anything to do with Anthony Sherman, really, but how Arians likes to use his tight ends — as potential decoys.

“I want tight ends who are multiple,” Arians said. “If you are a defensive coordinator and I send a fullback in and take out a tight end, I will get your best call for that. If I have two tight ends (in the game), and you don’t know if one will play fullback or one could split out wide, you’re going to give me a down-and-distance (defensive) call. You don’t have a specific call. The more flexible tight ends can be, threats at receiver or dual in-line backfield blockers, the more pressure you put on the defense.”

Arians went on to say Rob Housler was a player who, when Arians was with the Steelers, Arians thought about drafting and making a big wide receiver. Arians sees him as a mismatch for defenses, while Jeff King and Jim Dray (assuming a tight end isn’t drafted) will do the “dirty work.”

Where does that leave Sherman? He played 236 offensive snaps a year ago in 13 games. That would probably dry up. He also played 156 snaps on special teams, and that’s a role he can excel within. Sherman had no rushing attempts all season and only five catches. As Sando noted, Arians did work with a fullback last year, but that guy was considered more of a big running back in Arians’ eyes. Whether Sherman can be the same for the Cardinals — and Arians — is yet to be seen.

ShermanBlogUSE


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Arians talks QBs, Cribbs and other stuff over breakfast

Posted by Darren Urban on March 20, 2013 – 9:05 am

The NFC coaches breakfast was this morning — bright and early at 7:15 a.m. — here at the NFL coaches meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. That meant an hour hanging out with Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. There will be plenty more in-depth of what was said, but for now a few of the main highlights — the biggest being that the reality of Drew Stanton being the 2013 starting quarterback feels very close right now.

– Asked if this was a tough year to be going into the draft needing a quarterback, Arians didn’t blink. “I don’t feel we need one.”

– Along those lines (and again, I will have an article up later today on the subject) Arians said he wasn’t worried about the quarterback situation. He doesn’t know enough about Brian Hoyer, Ryan Lindley or John Skelton yet, because he hasn’t had a chance to go over video and ask “why” on various plays. He obviously has done that with Stanton. But he said he thinks he can win with Stanton, and he said he won’t have a problem if things stay status quo starting Stanton this season.

– Yes, such QB talk is possiblely a smokescreen. Or just hard driving optimism so players (and fans) don’t want to write off 2013. But Arians sure sounded genuine.

– He wants to name a starting QB before training camp. That’s best for the team, he said, making sure the locker room knows who “The Man” will be.

– It hurt Kevin Kolb that Arians couldn’t sit down with him and talk about his play last season and again, figuring out the whys and why nots of decision-making. Without that information, moving on (given the contract) was the best decision, Arians said.

– He talked a little bit about the possibility of adding free agent Josh Cribbs, assuming at some point Cribbs is healthy and the Cards still have interest by that point. He wouldn’t mind having both Cribbs and Patrick Peterson back for a kick or two. “It’d be a nice addition if it works out.” One thing Cribbs won’t do is be QB in a wildcat formation. “I’m not a wildcat dude,” Arians said.

– Not only will Lorenzo Alexander play outside linebacker, new defensive end Matt Shaughnessy can also stand up and play OLB. That could make for an interesting pass rush situation.

– Asked about the tight ends, he was blunt: “I’m not a fullback guy, never have been.” Not great news for Anthony Sherman, at least on the surface. Arians wants two tight ends when one can maneuver into the backfield, making it much harder for the defense to know what’s coming. Having a fullback restricts that flexibility, he said.

– He said the speed at receiver with Fitz, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd is “plenty fast enough.” He added with a chuckle, wide receiver “is not the position I’ve worried about.”

– Rehab has gone well for center Lyle Sendlein, tackle Levi Brown and running back Ryan Williams, but Arians isn’t sure how much they will do in the early on-field work.

– It’ll be wait-and-see where second-year offensive linemen Nate Potter and Bobby Massie play, either guard or tackle. But Arians is confident they each can do both.

– Levi Brown could play right tackle. But Arians right now sure sounds like a guy expecting to have Brown at left tackle.

– The coaching staff are still trying to figure out what position Justin Bethel will play, cornerback or safety. They will pick one and let him learn it well.

– The Cardinals color Kangol was on display again Wednesday morning. Could we see something similar on Sundays? Arians is talking with with New Era and the NFL on that subject. “I’m not getting fined,” Arians joked. “There’s got to be more than baseball caps, know what I mean?”

AriansBreak3USE


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Catches from the backfield

Posted by Darren Urban on February 19, 2013 – 3:12 pm

Just in case anyone wasn’t sure about new coach Bruce Arians wanting to get the ball downfield if possible in the running game, Arians makes it pretty clear what he wants to see in his running backs.

He wants someone who can run, of course. And block. Beyond that? Let’s just say that fantasy football players in points-per-reception leagues aren’t going to look at the Cardinals first.

“They are back there because they are runners and pass protectors,” Arians said. “Will we throw to the backs? Yeah. But the receivers are the ones paid to catch it. (Running backs) are helping but it’s doubtful our running back leads the team in receiving.”

Last season, injuries crushed the Cards’ running backs, so reception totals don’t correspond perfectly in what the prior staff wanted to do in the passing game, but even Ken Whisenhunt’s pass game didn’t use the backs a ton as receivers (especially after Tim Hightower left.) William Powell had the most catches for a running back last year (19), and that was sixth on the team behind Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd, Rob Housler and Early Doucet. LaRod Stephens-Howling was tied for seventh with tight end Jeff King with his 17 catches. Ryan Williams had seven receptions, Anthony Sherman five and Beanie Wells only had one.

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Potter inactive, Batiste to start vs 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2012 – 12:57 pm

Left tackle Nate Potter is inactive today because of his sprained ankle, putting D’Anthony Batiste back in the lineup for the first time since Potter replaced him during the Green Bay game prior to the bye week Nov. 4. That will make for an interesting matchup when he goes against 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks). Fullback Anthony Sherman (knee) is also inactive, meaning tight end Jim Dray will fill in for the fullback duties.

Rookie guard Senio Kelemete is active for the first time this season, too.

Also inactive for the Cards today are:

– QB John Skelton

– WR LaRon Byrd (knee)

– G Mike Gibson (calf)

– WR Early Doucet (concussion)

– DE Ronald Talley (ankle)


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Punt return royalty seeks to regain shine

Posted by Darren Urban on December 21, 2012 – 1:28 pm

Two of the four players in NFL history who have four punt return touchdowns in a season will be returning punts Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“I think it’s going to be fun, having Devin Hester on one end and Patrick Peterson on the other,” Peterson said. “I believe that calls for a good show.”

Whether it actually produces anything remains to be seen. Both Peterson and Hester have been quiet this season on punt returns. Hester has averaged just nine yards on 34 tries, with a long of 44. His average is well below his career average of 12.3 yards a return. Peterson, of course, has also been slowed. He has an average of 8.6 yards on 47 tries (and has lost three fumbles). Neither Peterson or Hester has a touchdown this season.

Peterson has talked a few times about trying to break out on punt returns. But he is playing well at cornerback, and the always confident Peterson will not sway from his belief the big punt return will still come.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Peterson said. “At the end of the day the Arizona Cardinals drafted me to be a defensive back. The punt returns are a plus. When my opportunities comes, I will try my best and I want to break one. But teams now are so dialed in, when (number) 21 has the ball in his hands, bottle him up on the sideline and if you don’t, have all 11 hats to the ball.”

– Wide receiver Early Doucet (concussion) and newcomer offensive lineman Mike Gibson (calf) — who apparently got hurt in practice this week after re-signing — are both out Sunday. The Cardinals have a bunch of players questionable, although both safeties Rashad Johnson and James Sanders were upgraded to limited Friday. In addition to those two, the questionable list includes T Nate Potter, FB Anthony Sherman, LB Quentin Groves, TE Rob Housler, DE Ronald Talley and NT Dan Williams.

The Bears will be without LB Brian Urlacher. DT Henry Melton is doubtful. Questionable are NFL interceptions leader Tim Jennings, LB Blake Costanzo, WR Earl Bennett and T Jonathan Scott.

PPPuntReturnUSE

 


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The reality of injuries

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2012 – 10:38 am

Talking injuries in the NFL is always about walking a fine line.

There are few coaches that don’t get particular the way their team’s injuries are discussed on a weekly level, and that includes coach Ken Whisenhunt. There is a reason as little information as possible is divulged as team’s go along, why a team like the Patriots used to clog the injury report with as many players as possible, why guys are often “game-time decisions” when some are and some probably aren’t. No one wants to give the other side an advantage.

But on a bigger picture, there is another way the fine line is encountered with injuries: When a team is undercut by the sheer amount that crop up, talking about how much it’s affecting the team can be a minefield.

That’s what the Cardinals are going through right now. It’s impossible to know what this team would be like with better health, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If Beanie Wells, Kevin Kolb, Todd Heap, Levi Brown, Jeremy Bridges and Ryan Williams were all still available, what would it mean? Then again — and this is the fine line part — no one wants to hear about it usually. One of the biggest cliches out there is a coach or player for an injured team noting of their upcoming opponents “The (fill-in-the-blank) aren’t going to feel sorry for us.” In the Cardinals’ case, the 49ers are in the blank this week.

“That’s the NFL,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You face (injuries). I think part of our continuity on offense is struggling because of that. You can’t use it as an excuse. You have to move forward.”

Guard Daryn Colledge said during his years on the Packers, there were a couple of years when the team was crushed by injuries. One season, the Packers finished 6-10. The other, the Packers rallied on their way to a Super Bowl title. “It can go both ways,” Colledge said.

The reality is that no one sits at the end of the season and says, “Hey, the such-and-such only won the Super Bowl because injuries crippled such-and-such.” No, the team that wins will be the team that wins, with no asterisks. If the Cardinals can’t parlay a 4-0 start into the playoffs, no one outside of Arizona is going to care or even note it. Last year’s Bears probably make the playoffs if quarterback Jay Cutler doesn’t get hurt, but that didn’t stop the Bears from making a change at general manager. It’s a harsh world to live within.

The Cards aren’t getting Brown, Bridges or Williams back. Wells is gone at least three more games. Kolb is out indefinitely. The Cards have to keep progressing tight end Rob Housler, because Heap’s return remains an unknown. In the short term, the Cards have been missing fullback Anthony Sherman, and guard Adam Snyder was limping pretty good with a quad problem after the Vikings game. Have the injuries hurt the Cards? Of course they have. That’s not an excuse as much as a fact. But it’s also a fact the Cards can’t do anything about it.

“It would be nice to have guys out there more than a week and find some continuity on offense,” Colledge said. “But again, it’s on us to find the playmakers and find ways to win games.”

 


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Heap remains inactive

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2012 – 8:38 am

Tight end Todd Heap remains inactive with his bad knee today against the Vikings, on an inactive list that is filled up with injured players.

Only guard Senio Kelemete is a healthy scratch. Sitting out are QB Kevin Kolb (ribs), S Kerry Rhodes (back), CB Greg Toler (hamstring), FB Anthony Sherman (knee), and LB Reggie Walker (concussion). Rashad Johnson is starting in place of Rhodes, while Regan Maui’a is starting in place of Sherman.

The Vikings have all their key players available who were on the injury report, including RB Adrian Peterson, DE Jared Allen and WR Jerome Simpson.

– Also this morning, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the Cardinals are expected to work out free agent QB Vince Young this week. If true — and I haven’t heard anything about it — it’s an interesting turn. Young, given his background and recent play, wouldn’t have been a guy I’d think the Cards would consider as an option.


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Defense sure it is spelled t-e-a-m, and some notes

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2012 – 2:15 pm

The Cardinals’ offensive players have said a few times that their unit needs to start playing to the level of the defense. It is only logical that some would wonder about the frustration level of the defense as they wait for the offense to come around. But defenders aren’t going there.

“We all get off the bus together, we all are in the locker room together,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “But we have to focus on what we do on defense. They’ll get it together.

“There are games where they bailed us out,” Dockett added, noting the Miami outing when the Cards gave up a ton of passing yards. “I’m tired of people saying defense has to be the backbone, defense, defense, defense. We’re a team at the end of the day.”

That works for defensive coordinator Ray Horton. “I’ve never said that (message) to them so it is great they answer that way,” Horton said. “If (the question) was posed to me, I’d go back one year when we were 1-6 and (the defense) didn’t do our job, so we understand where we came from.”

– As expected safety Kerry Rhodes won’t play Sunday in Minnesota with his bad back, and quarterback Kevin Kolb is of course out. Fullback Anthony Sherman (knee) and cornerback Greg Toler (hamstring) are doubtful. Tight end Todd Heap remains limited and questionable with his sore knee, and frankly, at this point, I’m guessing he won’t play until he gets back to practicing fully. I’ve been burned too many times thinking he’d be back. He’ll give it a try pre-game Sunday though and see how it feels.

– I know there are a bunch of questions about the Cards and the status of trying to sign offensive lineman Chris Williams. Here’s the deal: He visited the Cards. He had already visited the Eagles and now Mike Jurecki noted he’s visiting the Chargers. Williams looks like he will have options. Could he sign here? Sure. If he does, it’d probably be after the weekend. But the Cards have to want him, he has to want to come here (and he certainly would seem to have a good opportunity to play here) and then a contract has to be worked out. I’ll let you know something as soon as I know.


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