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Cards have one Zasty punter

Posted by Darren Urban on September 20, 2013 – 10:12 am

Back when the Cardinals brought in punter Dave Zastudil at the tail end of 2011 training camp, it raised some eyebrows. And there was definitely some fan backlash when favorite Ben Graham was released, and a little more when Zastudil’s past leg injuries crept back here and there that season. The Cardinals — and then-special teams coach Kevin Spencer — believed Zastudil had a lot left though. They were right.

Finally healthy last season, Zastudil was put to the test much too often because of a faulty offense and he was very good. He averaged 46.5 yards a punt, netted 41.4 and set an NFL record with 46 punts (out of 112, easily a career-high) inside the 20-yard line. His 46.5 average was second all-time in franchise history, behind Graham’s 2009 year of 47.0. Zastudil also had a career-best 70-yard punt last season, and both his gross and net averages were career-bests.

His average is slightly down through two games this season (44.6) but that’s in part because Zastudil is getting a shorter fields on which to kick thanks to a much-improved offense. But his net is still stellar (42.0) and already he has had seven punts inside the 20.

Zastudil benefits from the emergence of star gunner Justin Bethel, who has been amazing in locking down most punt returns (Opponents have three yards on four punt returns in two games). But it starts with the punter, and Zastudil has been impressive.

ZastypicUSE


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Feely ready for competition with Carpenter

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2013 – 8:39 am

The Cardinals are about to sign free agent kicker Dan Carpenter, as first noted by Adam Schefter (nothing official yet from the team, but a player usually has to pass his physical and sign his deal before that happens). It’s not a surprise that Jay Feely would get some competition. Bruce Arians wasn’t happy with the short missed field goal the other night and there has been some talk Feely’s kickoffs aren’t always deep enough (although he seemed to do fine there against the Cowboys.)

Kicking in Arizona is an attractive option, given the weather and mostly indoor facility. Certainly Carpenter, who has kicked his whole career in Miami, is used to nicer weather. Still, the Packers want a kicker too. You have to wonder exactly what Carpenter was told about the situation here and Feely’s place to convince him to sign with the Cards. Was it just that this is wide open? It will be interesting to see how they break down opportunities in the next two games too.

Feely made 4-of-5 field goals last week, including a 53-yarder. He made a higher percentage of field goals last year than Carpenter. Carpenter is 10 years younger, so maybe that’s a factor. We’ll see how this plays out. The last time the Cards brought a veteran special teamer late in camp to challenge another veteran, Dave Zastudil ended up suddenly taking Ben Graham’s job at punter.

I’m sure it’s not lost on anyone either the fact that, when Carpenter, as an undrafted rookie, won a kicking job in Miami in 2008, the veteran he beat out was Jay Feely.

UPDATE: Bruce Arians wouldn’t comment because the news is yet to be official. Feely did talk about it.

“I’ve had competition my whole career and there’s competition whether someone is here or not,” Feely said. “You are always competing against every other kicker in camp and even guys who aren’t in camp. I’ve been there myself. This doesn’t change anything for me. I’m comfortable with what coach Arians told me and I will keep competing. I am happy with where I am at right now and progressing to get ready for St. Louis.”

Feely did not get into details of what he and Arians spoke about, but said he embraced the competition.

“I am proud of my performance over the last four years,” Feely said, noting that he was third in the NFL in field-goal makes over 47 yards the last four years, fifth in percentage at that distance and fifth in percentage from less than 47 yards. “I am happy with how I have performed the last few years and happy with my training camp so far.” Feely said he made a 57-yard field goal in practice Tuesday.

Feely called his 30-yard miss against the Cowboys “dumb,” saying he rushed it and should have just taken a delay of game to set himself. But he added he thinks his progression has been good in camp, including the last 10 days.

“I’ve been around long enough to know the job of management is always to get better,” Feely said. “To try to find someone who is better on the roster and your job as a player is to prove to them you are the best option.”


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Cards cut three

Posted by Darren Urban on August 19, 2013 – 10:17 am

The first official roster cutdown doesn’t come until next weekend, after the Cardinals play their third preseason game against the Chargers, but they released three players today: center Kyle Quinn, guard Scott Wedige and kicker/punter Will Batson. That brings the roster to 87. That first cut has to be to 75, so there may not be any hurry to fill those slots. Then again, allowing Batson to go might open the possibility of bringing in another kicker for the last couple of preseason games. Bruce Arians wasn’t happy Jay Feely missed a 30-yard field goal against Dallas — although Feely knocked home a 53-yarder — and there’s always a chance at competition.

It’s been a tough run for vet kickers of late, with Miami cutting Dan Carpenter and Buffalo cutting Rian Lindell. In both those situations, though, the team already had a young kicker in place who was competing. Batson was never going to unseat Feely. A change might be unlikely, but the Cards did make a special teams move at the end of the 2011 preseason, surprisingly bringing in Dave Zastudil late to go against incumbent punter Ben Graham. Zastudil ended up winning the job.


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A massive swing and a few final tidbits

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2012 – 4:45 pm

As I was driving to work this morning, it occurred to me that there can’t be too many times when a team undergoes the kind of score swing from one week to the next that the Cardinals had these past two weeks. After losing in Seattle, 58-0, they beat the Lions, 38-10. That’s a swing margin of 86 points. So, with a hat tip to media relations stats guru Mike Helm, Elias was able to confirm that it was the biggest swing from week to week since 1968.

That year, the Lions opened the season with a 59-13 loss in Dallas and then followed up with a 42-0 home win over the Bears — a swing of 88 points. From blown out to blowout. The first part of that isn’t ideal, but better than back-to-back losses. (It actually happens more than I thought. The Giants blew out the Saints, 52-27, last week and then lost, 34-0, to the Falcons this week. Not in the same points ballpark, but the same concept.)

– Speaking of media relations mavens, VP Mark Dalton noted the last time safety Rashad Johnson scored a touchdown before Sunday was when he returned an interception for a 54-yard score while playing for Alabama Nov. 8, 2008 in a win at LSU. You know who also had a pick-6 in that game? LSU freshman Patrick Peterson. Too bad Peterson could complete the circle of life when he stumbled at the end of his interception return Sunday.

– Punter Dave Zastudil has 38 punts downed inside the 20-yard line with two games to go. He is on pace to eclipse the NFL record of 42, held by three players, including the Cards’ Ben Graham in 2009. Zastudil has been fantastic this season. Of course, he isn’t even leading the league, since Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt already has 41 downed inside the 20. It’s a race to the finish!

– The 25.5 sacks of defensive end Calais Campbell in his career already puts him in the top 10 in franchise history. I don’t know if he’s ever going to reach the top — Freddie Joe Nunn’s 66 is a long way away, especially for a 3-4 end — but if he stays consistent there is no reason to think Campbell doesn’t at least double his total over the next three seasons.

– The Cards flip-flopped their Saturday roster move, releasing defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin — they must expect Dan Williams and/or Ronald Talley back this week — and re-signing guard/center Mike Gibson.

 


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With Zastudil ailing, Graham returns

Posted by Darren Urban on October 5, 2011 – 10:27 am

The Cardinals have brought punter Ben Graham back, although it’s because the man who replaced him, Dave Zastudil, is suffering from some inflammation of the knee that cropped up late in the Giants’ game. The Cards want to make sure they have a healthy punter available this week in case Zastudil can’t go.

Zastudil’s issues Sunday were well-chronicled — his final punt was a line-drive 40-yarder that was returned 18 yards, helping set up the Giants’ game-winning drive, although his knee (the Cards didn’t say which) may have been bothering him by then. Zastudil did have his right knee surgically repaired during the 2009 season and he ended up missing all of the 2010 season because it wasn’t quite ready (leading to his leaving his howmtown Browns). Zastudil averaged 45 yards a kick Sunday and is averaging 44.5 yards for the season (with a 36.0 net average).

Graham was released in final cuts in favor of Zastudil, who had been signed late in training camp. To make room for Graham, the Cardinals released cornerback Korey Lindsey, who was re-signed to the practice squad. To make room there, the Cards released safety Mark LeGree.

I know many have been hoping Graham would come back. But this figures to be short-term until Zastudil’s return to health. I’m sure we will have a chance to catch up with Ben after practice (as well as coach Ken Whisenhunt). We can hear Graham’s thoughts on the business of the NFL.


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Chargers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2011 – 1:41 am

You know what I thought of when I watched Kevin Kolb launch one down the field and connect perfectly with Larry Fitzgerald for that 80-yard touchdown bomb Saturday night? Not the Super Bowl catch (comon — no matter how pretty, the stakes were so dramatically different. There weren’t stakes in this game). Not even the one-time Kurt Warner-to-Fitz combo — Kurt liked to spread it around so much.

No, what I thought of was this entire last month. If we have learned anything about Kolb since he arrived it’s that he understands that a) Fitz likes the ball; b) Fitz can get the ball most of the time if it is anywhere close; and c) good things tend to happen when Fitz has the ball. We will see what happens when teams start gameplanning more to defend Fitz, but it’s hard to think that, assuming both Kolb and Fitz are healthy, Fitz is going to have anything but a monster year statistically.

Offensively, the Cards showed some pop. Beanie Wells is running as well as he did late in his rookie season. That’s a good thing, because that’s when I thought he was about to be a 1,200-yard back. The line is giving Kolb some protection. There’s a long way to go, but it’s easy to see how this team could score some points when it finally clicks — because at this point, they say they are not.

“I know we had some incompletions early, but a few of them were miscommunications,” Kolb said. “That’s going to happen … The biggest thing is starting early and then when we get in that red zone, making it count. That’s still an issue of ours going forward.”

– All this concern about stretching the field. Fitzgerald looked pretty fast on that 80-yard catch and then No. 2 Andre Roberts split the seam pretty well on that 34-yard reverse for a touchdown (shown below). “I want people to respect my speed,” Roberts said with a grin. “They call me slow. Maybe plays like that will help it out a little bit.”

– Funny how people were wondering about Patrick Peterson and his lack of impact and then he gets a Pick-6. Make no mistake, he’s a work-in-progress. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Chargers were kind of picking on him later in the half, Peterson insisted “it wasn’t pick-on-Peterson night.” Whatever the case, he is still learning. He insists he isn’t frustrated with how he is being handled. I’ll say this: He sure sounds like he has the perfect attitude. At some point — sooner rather than later — he is going to be a star. I really believe that.

– The Cards may need him sooner, depending on how bad the sprain is of starter Greg Toler. That could hurt in the short-term, and just ratchets up the importance of how A.J. Jefferson has played.

– I still think Dan Williams will be the starting nose tackle. But rookie David Carter is going to push for that job. Both have to play anyway. Whiz said Carter got cut blocked on Ryan Mathews’ 48-yard run and he has to find a way to plug the middle. But overall Carter is making a strong push. At this rate, he will be the pleasant surprise of camp.

– Speaking of making pushes, Rich Bartel is pushing John Skelton as backup QB. Bartel talked the other day about seizing opportunity. Then he completes 8-of-10 passes and tosses a TD. Save for that one bad INT in Green Bay, he seems to have made every other decision the right way this preseason.

– Kolb threw a block on Roberts’ run. I’m not sure that’s a smart thing. The coaches don’t think so, apparently. “My job is what I call ‘Push and pester,’ ” Kolb said. “I’m just trying to get in the way of somebody.” Just, please, stay safe when doing it.

– Peterson looked good on a punt return. Whiz said PP was back there because Roberts has a sore thumb. The way Peterson runs them back, it may be hard to not have him back there, even if Roberts’ thumb is golden.

– Ben Graham was the only Card to punt. He sure seemed to respond well to the signing of Dave Zastudil. Graham averaged 41.3 yards on four punts, dropping three inside the San Diego 20 and netting 48 yards on his other kick. He’s not going anywhere if he performs like that.

– Would’ve liked to see running back Alfonso Smith. Hamstring soreness kept him out. I’ll be curious to know if he can play in the fourth game at all.

OK, it’s late — very late — and I’m tired. Time to wrap this up. Short week before the Broncos come in Thursday. First cuts — from 90 to 80 — have to be done by Tuesday. I’d expect Monday. Then the final cut to 53 comes next weekend sometime. It will be interesting.


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Going forward at QB, and other lunch notes

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2011 – 12:28 pm

The Cardinals wanted Brodie Croyle at quarterback because he did come from Todd Haley’s system, and there are similarities with that and what the Cards run. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Cards waived-injured Max Hall because it was the only way they could have any chance of bringing Hall back this season. They can injury settle with Hall and then re-sign him down the road. Will it happen/be necessary? Well, if there is an injury, I could see wanting to turn back to Hall. Otherwise, I’m not sure it would happen.

As for Croyle, with two games in five days (the Cards play Saturday and again Thursday), they need someone who didn’t come in completely cold. It’s not like they are bringing him in just because of that, Whisenhunt said, but it was a major factor. “We did have good grades on him coming out,” Whiz said.

Croyle (pictured below at his first practice this morning) doesn’t know what to expect. “I will come in and hopefully play well and we will see what happens,” Croyle said, adding that he hopes to see some time against the Chargers Saturday. “I’d like to but we will see. It wouldn’t be the ideal situation, but you play when you can. I’ll take reps when I can get them.”

Starting quarterback Kevin Kolb was asked about seeing the Chargers this weekend and then the Panthers — who are led by new head coach and former San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera — opening weekend, and whether he can glean anything from it. Kolb actually weaved in the arrival of Croyle, and the Haley tie. “We said to Brodie, ‘Is this pretty similar?’ And he’s like, ‘Ehhh …’ ” Kolb said. “Coaches want to change their stuff. You can’t get caught up thinking you’ll be seeing the same things.”

– Whisenhunt said it was “competition” for incumbent punter Ben Graham as to why the Cards signed veteran Dave Zastudil. Punting, Whisenhunt said, was one of many areas that needed to be improved from 2010. In 2009, Graham was fantastic, but the team played to his strengths — the offense gained so many yards they were often near or beyond the 50, able to let Graham pin teams deep. When the offense struggles and Graham is forced to kick deep, he can drive it long, but the hang time allows for bigger returns.

– Kolb avoided a high-speed accident Tuesday night — he swerved on his Segway so he didn’t hit a skunk. That would have been a disaster. Whisenhunt said he’s dodged a few skunks in camp himself.

– Someone asked Kolb if he would get butterflies before his first home game. He said he gets butterflies before practice. “I take this game serious,” he said, and it was hard not to flash back to the Cardinals quarterback of last season. “I get amped up and ready to go, practice, preseason whatever it is,” Kolb added.

– Kolb said he was going to play into the third quarter. Whisenhunt would not commit to that, but did say it was a possibility. Playing into the third would allow Kolb to come out and play after halftime, which is always good for the starter to go through. Kolb joked that that was a big reason to look forward to this game, learning stuff like that. He doesn’t even know where the stadium is yet.

– S Adrian Wilson will not be pushed to come back. If anything, the Cards will be conservative with him. But it was good to get him back on the field, Whisenhunt said. “The common phrase for defensive players is ‘Getting their eyes right,’ ” Whiz said. “Getting in there with the speed of the game and in the right position. You can stand back and watch, but it is different when things are full-speed and you’re the one on the hook.”

– Tight end Stephen Spach (calf) and quarterback John Skelton (ankle) are making “good progress.” What that means practice-wise or game-wise is TBD.


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Cards waive Hall, add Croyle and veteran punter

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2011 – 8:41 am

The debate over whether Max Hall could make it back to the Cardinals’ roster is over for this year. After suffering a subluxed left shoulder in practice Monday, Hall was waived-injured Wednesday. If Hall clears waivers, he ends up on injured reserve.

The Cardinals did end up signing veteran quarterback Brodie Croyle to fill the third quarterback spot, with John Skelton still sidelined with a right ankle sprain. They also signed veteran punter Dave Zastudil to battle Ben Graham. The other move to make roster room was to release undrafted rookie free agent tackle Jake Vermiglio.

Zastudil kicked for the Ravens and Browns from 2002-2009, missing all of last season with — coincidentally, given the events with running back Ryan Williams — a torn patella tendon in his plant leg. Zastudil has averaged 42.7 yards a punt in his career.

As for Croyle, I wouldn’t expect him to be able to beat out Rich Bartel or Skelton. He’ll be around for the balance of camp. Maybe he can show something in the final two weeks, but it will be difficult.


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Final rookie has a contract, and other notes

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2011 – 1:40 pm

Second-round pick Ryan Williams agreed to his rookie contract today, a four-year deal for the running back that gets all the rookies finally signed. I would guess running back Tim Hightower is going to sign his tender offer sooner rather than later too.

– Multiple reports have put the name of WR Braylon Edwards back on the radar screen for the Cards. His name has surfaced and resurfaced a couple of times. He definitely isn’t going back to the Jets after Plaxico Burress signed. Edwards has former teammates like Jay Feely, Kerry Rhodes and Ben Graham here, he’s got a stud receiver in Larry Fitzgerald to take the heat off him, and, let’s face it, the market clearly hasn’t been what he thought it would be for him. To sign Edwards would continue the drastic revamping of the offense in just a matter of days (although let’s be clear — Edwards-to-Arizona is no sure thing).

– We are unveiling part of the camp coverage video-wise today with “Camp Unfiltered.” Here’s how the concept was explained to me: “A ‘raw’ inside look at different aspects of practice and the team.” The first installment puts the spotlight on catching punts.

– A happy birthday to owner Bill Bidwill, who turned 80 today. And while we are on the subject of birthdays — indulge me for a moment — I wanted to note my grandfather, Ray Urban, turned 100 yesterday, and I was lucky enough to be there.


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Adding players, keeping players

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2011 – 10:36 am

Slowly, information has come out on a handful of Cards’ early moves here in this tiny 2011 offseason. Again, because contracts can’t be signed until Friday afternoon, no official announcements are being made on free agents. But through multiple reports, it came out that the Cards had agreed to a deal with former Carolina tight end Jeff King, a good blocker who fits well the mold of what coach Ken Whisenhunt wants in a tight end. Stephen Spach is also expected to return, so with draft pick Rob Housler and holdover Jim Dray, we know what the position is going to look like in camp (and it doesn’t include Todd Heap or Zach Miller).

Kicker Jay Feely also reported on Twitter that punter Ben Graham has agreed to re-sign, although I expect the Cards to bring in another punter to compete with Graham in camp.

As for the QB situation, news is still on hold. Reports have Denver’s Kyle Orton possibly to going to Miami. With Matt Hasselbeck going to Tennessee, it seems it will be an upset if Kevin Kolb doesn’t end up in Arizona. For what price, it is uncertain. The song for QB musical chairs is about to stop however.

P.S. A quick training camp note: The Walkup Skydome is in the middle of renovations in Flagstaff, and while the Cardinals will still be able to practice inside if there is rain, fans will not be able to go in to watch practice. Something to keep in mind.


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