Once, Bertrand Berry left, but he came back.
Having covered the Cardinals either for the East Valley Tribune or here at azcardinals.com for years, I’ve been through a lot of free-agent signing periods and watched the team have a lot of interest in various players. Sometimes they signed. Sometimes they didn’t. And those times pop into my head with the new philosophy of the front office. It isn’t necessarily take it or leave it, but it is close. The Cardinals these days have a number in mind to spend on each particular free agent and definitely a ranking system where they want a certain player first over others. But if there is hesitation, the Cards are ready to move on. They won’t be used as leverage, and that’s a good thing.
The Cards were frequently the team used for leverage once upon a time (the brief Joe Montana courtship is one I remember, but that was before my time on the beat.) There have been others, and that’s one reason why it’s good to see GM Steve Keim get past that. More importantly, it’s good to see the confidence the team has in its plan. The Cards want, for instance, Karlos Dansby to come back. But the possibility of him leaving breeds no panic. As Bruce Arians likes to say, next man up, and that’s an incredibly liberating stance to take this time of year. The Cards will reach out to a left tackle in free agency, I’d guess, and if whoever it is doesn’t like the offer or hedges, the Cards will move on to the next choice. I have no doubt of that. The Cardinals aren’t going to be cheap, but they are going to structure deal on their terms.
(This doesn’t mean the Cards won’t bargain shop later, like they did with Dansby/Winston/Abraham last year. Float a number, wait a guy out and if he’s willing to come in for a bargain, you put him on the roster.)
That brings me back to Berry, who the Cardinals really wanted as a pass rusher in 2004. The offer was on the table and the Cardinals really wanted him to agree to it that day when he visited the team. Berry told them he probably would agree, but he wanted to sleep on it. Fair, although it could have been a leverage ploy. It wasn’t. Berry came back the next day to sign, and proved to be one of the best free-agent signings the team has made, with 14.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl that year before injuries derailed his Arizona tenure.
I don’t see the current Cards letting that happen much at all. A free agent who won’t agree right away is risking that deal being yanked off the table quickly. Keim is going to be in control of this process.
Tags: Bertrand Berry, Bruce Arians, free agency, Karlos Dansby, Steve Kiem
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The depth chart, as I mentioned yesterday, can only be believed to a certain point. Things often change and are more flexible than what’s listed in one certain package (especially on the defensive side.) That’s one thing to remember when John Abraham pops up as “third string” behind Lorenzo Alexander and Matt Shaughnessy. I remember running into Bruce Arians at one point during the owners meetings in March at the Biltmore, and even then — long before Abraham, for instance — saying that he considered many more than just 22 guys “starters.” If you were in a certain package as first unit, you were a starter. Since Abraham will be on the field for nickel to rush the passer, he too is a “starter” in Arians’ eyes.
Abraham played just 27 plays the entire preseason. The Cards knew what they had in him (especially when, in just five plays in the opener, Abraham came up with a strip-sack in Green Bay.) The Cards are counting on him getting double-digit sacks this season — as he is himself — and that’s been an elusive thing for the Cards’ defense the last few years. The last time that happened was 2004, when Bertrand Berry had 14.5.
Pressure on the quarterback is always where the defense starts. The Cardinals will need Abraham. They will need the defensive linemen, especially Darnell Dockett, to up the havoc level. Calais Campbell has to be seen as a given. And elsewhere, whether it is Sam Acho or Lorenzo Alexander or Matt Shaughnessy, there has to be more. It will start with Abraham, though. That’s why he’s here.
– One more number change in addition to the ones we saw yesterday. Safety Rashad Johnson is switching from 49 to 26.
Tags: Bertrand Berry, Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, John Abraham, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, Rashad Johnson, Sam Acho
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Steve Keim, speaking for the first time since the Cards’ flurry of roster activity at the outset of camp, mentioned the obvious when talking about newly-acquired John Abraham.
“John obviously brings an element that we don’t and have not had,” the general manager said.
The Cardinals haven’t had a double-digit sack guy since Bertrand Berry had 14.5 in 2004. In the eight seasons since, nine is the top individual number. Safety Adrian Wilson had eight one year to lead the team. Chike Okeafor had 8.5 in 2006 and he was an edge defensive end, but no one was adjusting their protection schemes for Chike. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell have taken their turns too, but even when Campbell was operating as a 4-3 DE he wasn’t the guy who was going to turn the corner and constantly wreak havoc.
Often the Cards have made it work through blitzes and schemes. But to add a guy like Abraham potentially changes that for the better.
The Cards have tried this recently, as I’ve mentioned before. Joey Porter was coming off a nine-sack season with the Dolphins when the Cards signed him in 2010; Porter had 17.5 sacks the year before that. (By contrast, Abraham has 19.5 sacks the past two seasons). At 33, Porter clearly was out of gas, which is why Miami let him go in favor of the up-and-coming Cameron Wake and why Porter never made an impact in Arizona.
The way the Cards scout and break down players now, though, they are certain Abraham — at 35 — is in a much better place to produce. The previous staff tried to play Porter every down (and Porter made that a problem, fighting tooth and nail never to come out) and that wasn’t going to work. Abraham made it clear he wanted to be every down but also said he understood he might be used more in pass-rushing situations.
Clarity with Abraham is easy to see for Keim, too.
“Sometimes when you study a 35-year-old on tape, he looks like a 35-year-old,” Keim said. “I don’t know if they put this guy in wax, I don’t know what it was, but this guy can still get off the rock. He had had 10 sacks last year, seven forced fumbles. His ‘get-off’ to this day is still what I remember when I scouted him at South Carolina. There are some areas of his game where he would probably admit his skills have declined, but to pick a player up of this caliber at this time excites us all.”
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bertrand Berry, Calais Campbell, Chike Okeafor, Darnell Dockett, Joey Porter, John Abraham, Steve Keim
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Linebacker Daryl Washington, snubbed for the Pro Bowl Wednesday, is still chasing his 10th sack of the season. Notching one more would not only tie the franchise mark for sacks by a linebacker, but also make him the first guy with 10 since Bertrand Berry had 14.5 in 2004 and the first Cardinal ever to have 100 tackles and 10 sacks. Of course, Washington as been stuck with nine sacks since getting one against the Rams Nov. 25. Chasing down mobile 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for one might not be easy. Washington did have two sacks the last time the Cards played the 49ers, but at that point, Alex Smith was still playing QB for San Francisco.
– Left tackle Nate Potter sat out Wednesday’s practice with a bad ankle. If Potter isn’t able to play Sunday, his backup is D’Anthony Batiste — who struggled so much when he was in there earlier in the season — and I’d think Batiste would likely get another start. That would definitely be something that bears watching.
– The Big Red Rage tonight at Majerle’s in Chandler will feature not only host Kerry Rhodes but also wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, so reserve your table quickly. The show starts at 6 p.m.
Tags: Bertrand Berry, Big Red Rage, Colin Kaepernick, D'Anthony Batiste, Daryl Washington, Kerry Rhodes, Larry Fitzgerald, Nate Potter
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Starting left tackle Levi Brown left Friday night’s game with a triceps injury. No way to know right now how severe — he was doubtful to return — but it could be a very big deal.
The last two Cardinals I recall suffering triceps injuries were tackle Oliver Ross and defensive end/linebackers Bertrand Berry, both in 2007. Both were lost for the season (Ross got hurt in the preseason, coincidentally, against the Raiders. Berry was hurt in November.) Until official word comes down, hope remains that Brown isn’t hurt that badly. But it’s tough not to think about it.
Brown’s backup is former undrafted youngster D.J. Young, who didn’t appear in a game last season, spending all but one week on the practice squad. The team could also use Jeremy Bridges at left tackle. Bridges played there a bunch in 2009 after Mike Gandy got hurt. For all the slings and arrows Brown has endured while playing, losing him would be a big deal. We’ll wait to hear.
Tags: Bertrand Berry, D.J. Young, Jeremy Bridges, Levi Brown, Oliver Ross, Raiders
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So I was looking over this ESPN.com article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”
That’s usually how it goes.
The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.
Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?
- 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
- 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
- 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
- 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
- 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
- 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
- 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
- 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
- 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely
Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).
Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.
Tags: Al Johnson, Bertrand Berry, Bryan Robinson, Bryant McFadden, Chike Okeafor, Derek Anderson, Dexter Jackson, Duane Starks, Edgerrin James, Emmitt Smith, Fred Wakefield, Freddie Jones, free agency, Jay Feely, Jeff Blake, Joey Porter, Kurt Warner, Leonard Davis, Matt Leinart, Mike Gandy, Mike Gruttadauria, Paris Lenon, Pete Kendall, Rod Hood, Travis LaBoy
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By the time I arrived to cover the Cardinals full-time, Simeon Rice’s best Cardinals’ season was behind him, with 16½ sacks in 1999. I was in place just in time for a contract dispute and “Don’t-tell-Mike-Jurecki-come-talk-to-me!” from then-GM Bob Ferguson. Rice had only 7½ sacks in 2000 and then left as a free agent.
Since then, finding a difference-making pass rusher hasn’t been easy for the Cardinals.
They signed one as a free agent in 2004, when they got Bertrand Berry and he collected 14½ that season (including four on Giants quarterback Kurt Warner, if you recall) but then injuries and eventually age shredded Berry’s chances to reach double digits again. That year was the only one where a Cardinal had at least 10 sacks since Rice’s big 1999 season; amazingly, Berry’s five sacks led the Cards in their Super Bowl season. Defensive end Calais Campbell led the Cards this season with six.
The Cards did get pressure-by-committee more in 2009. Campbell and Darnell Dockett tied for the team lead with seven, although the Cards had 43 as a team (sixth in the NFL), the most they had ever posted since moving to Arizona in 1988. That number dropped to 33 this season, and the current problems on offense – last season, the Cards had the lead much more often, providing more chances to rush the passer – certainly had something to do with it. In any case, that one guy the other team has to fear all by himself, he remains absent.
So that brings us to where the Cards stand now. Let’s, for a moment, assume the labor issues are resolved relatively quickly. Can they get that guy now? Could they, perhaps, pry someone like LaMarr Woodley away as a free agent (although reports are that Woodley expects to remain in Pittsburgh)? Then there is the idea of someone like Von Miller of Texas A&M would be a good draft pick, because of the pressure he could provide. (There is also the idea of someone like O’Brien Schofield developing into that dynamic guy, which he was in college). For a moment, forget about specifics. To get such a player, whomever he might be, improves your secondary/pass defense, because the more pressure you can deliver without blitzing means the more defenders you have in pass coverage.
And besides, it’d be one more guy who – as coaches and players alike like to say – “makes plays.” Those are the guys who tilt the game in your favor.
Tags: Bertrand Berry, Bob Ferguson, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Kurt Warner, LaMarr Woodley, O'Brien Schofield, Simeon Rice, Von Miller
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So much to talk about from this morning and lunch time. Let’s get to it, shall we?
– Practice was light this morning. That’s what happens when you have practiced heavy the previous two afternoons and you have a heavy practice planned in the evening, which the Cards do under the lights at Coconino High School.
– Remember the bad day rookie receiver Andre Roberts had a couple of days ago? Apparently Roberts doesn’t. Today he made a nice catch at the back of the end zone on a pass from Max Hall, snagging it while keeping his feet inbounds.
– On the injury list, linebacker Reggie Walker was back to work. Cornerback Rashad Barksdale has a left foot injury, and tight end Anthony Becht is nursing a mild back issue. Tight end Jim Dray (quad) is still sidelined. Safety Hamza Abdullah remains out with a bad hamstring, which is why the Cards brought in safety Aaron Rouse. The other day, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, starting safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes actually had to take reps with the third-string defense because the Cards were short at the position.
– Former Cardinal defensive end Bertrand Berry was back at camp. He’s a media member now, trying to get started in the business. He came up to do a series of web pieces for FOXsportsarizona.com about camp, beginning with a story on Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. “I’m just trying to learn the other side,” Berry said. Berry’s first video will be posted Aug. 6.
– Whisenhunt said the Cardinals were happy to get another chance at linebacker Pago Togafau, whom they lost off the practice squad last season. But it meant releasing Ali Highsmith because Whiz felt the team couldn’t get too heavy at the position. It hurts the Cards that two of the players hurt right now but counting against the 80-man roster are linebackers: Gerald Hayes and O’Brien Schofield.
– Speaking of inside linebacker, Whisenhunt has no thoughts right now on where they all stand. “I have to see more and get more information,” Whisenhunt said. “A lot will play out in the preseason games.”
– Finally, Adrian Wilson, once again, was sporting a new jersey number out at practice. The man who has made getting a different jersey number at practice a habit didn’t have the No. 9 (his high school number) on for the first time. Instead, he was wearing 5/53 — as in, a No. 53, but with the “3″ blocked out on the front and back with trainers’ tape.
“Camp is monotonous,” Wilson deadpanned. “You gotta do something. I can’t grow a (expletive) beard.” He laughed when it was pointed out he did have some serious chin hairs, retorting, “I’ve had this for 30 years.”
Why a 53 with the 3 covered up? “Just wanted to feel like I was still a DB,” Wilson said. “Had the ’5′ showing, but I had the ’53′ on the shoulder because I hit like a linebacker and cover like a safety. Know what I am saying?”
Indeed we do.
Tags: Aaron Rouse, Adrian Wilson, Andre Roberts, Anthony Becht, Bertrand Berry, Clark Haggans, Gerald Hayes, Hamza Abdullah, Jim Dray, Joey Porter, Kerry Rhodes, Max Hall, O'Brien Schofield, Pago Togafau, Rashad Barksdale, Reggie Walker, training camp
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A couple of leftovers from linebacker Clark Haggans, after talking to him about the story about he and Joey Porter I just posted:
Porter obviously delivers a love/hate relationship with many other players and fans. They love having him on their side, they hate him when he’s not. One person always on Porter’s side, though? Haggans’ mom.
“My mom loves him,” Haggans said. “He is one of her favorite people.”
Haggans said his mom used to go to sports bars (because she didn’t have a satellite NFL package) to watch the Steelers when he and Porter were there. “She used to hear a lot of flak (about Porter), ‘He’s mean, it seems like he is a crazy dude,’ ” Haggans said. “She would overhear people and she’d stick up for Joey, saying, ‘He’s not like that. He’s more misunderstood.’ “
Speaking about the linebacking corps in general, Haggans (pictured below) said it was going to be “fun.”
“We obviously lost Karlos, Bert and Chike. But with G Hayes, myself, Joey … there is still a lot of experience. There is a lot of football 101 between us.” That will hopefully pay off with young linebackers like Cody Brown, Will Davis, Daryl Washington and O’Brien Schofield, but Haggans isn’t dumb, and before I even had a chance to move on, Haggans jumped to a parallel theme, noting, “I’m guessing the next question might be how old we all are, well, I feel fine.”
“I could run for days and everyone else is fine, Haggans added. “I just think it’s like fine wine. We get better with age.”
Tags: Bertrand Berry, Chike Okeafor, Clark Haggans, Gerald Hayes, Joey Porter, Karlos Dansby
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Dan Williams was in the Cardinals’ locker room for the first time an hour ago, and was asked what number he wanted. Truth be told, he wanted 55, because that was his college number. That wasn’t happening, not with Joey Porter on the roster. Coincidentally, almost all the double numbers are retired for the Cards — 77 (Stan Mauldin) , 88 (J.V. Cain) , 99 (Marshall Goldberg) — and 66 is in use (guard Jonathan Palmer). So Williams went with 92, now open with Bertrand Berry’s retirement.
“I definitely take 92 — that works,” Williams said. “That was Reggie White’s number.”
Ah. There’s the secret. White, the Hall of Fame defensive lineman, was a star at the University of Tennessee long before Williams gained his own stardom.
“I didn’t get a chance to have that number at Tennessee, so if I could get it here in Arizona, I’m loving it,” Williams said.
Tags: Bertrand Berry, Dan Williams
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