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After practice: Lethargic offense and a glove

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2017 – 6:31 pm

Well, it’s a different kind of “After practice” post here because, for the first time in camp, we had Bruce Arians commenting on an afternoon practice as soon as it was over. Usually Arians talks in the morning, or at the very least right before practice. But because of Roger Goodell’s appearance today, Arians was moved back. What ended up happening? Arians talked about how the Cardinals were “lethargic offensively.” He didn’t have great things to say about the wide receivers in particular, warning of potentially bringing in other pass catchers. But he wasn’t happy with other parts, some of the blocking and dropped passes by tight ends. He did say Carson Palmer — all the quarterbacks, actually — did well. They didn’t get any help.

One particular sequence, as the Cardinals practiced their coming-off-the-goal line on offense. Second unit was in, with Drew Stanton behind center. The ugly series went:
–No one really open, and when Stanton went to safety valve it to running back Kerwynn Williams, Williams wasn’t looking, apparently bothered by an ankle that he had looked at earlier in practice;
— Center Tony Bergstrom forgetting the snap count and snapping early, causing a fumble that Stanton needed to fall on;
— A false start by right tackle Ulrick John;
— A dropped pass by tight end Ifeanyi Momah.

That was kind of the vibe of the day.

— There were a couple of offensive highlights. During that same scenario with the first-unit offense, running back David Johnson busted up the middle and then veered left on a third-down draw play and the receivers all to one side, galloping to a 70-yard run or so. It was pretty. It also set up a nice 2-yard TD pass later from Palmer to Jaron Brown, who posted up cornerback Justin Bethel in the end zone.

— Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand. Arians said Palmer would have to say why, and I didn’t get a chance to ask. The last time Palmer had a glove on his hand, it was after getting a cut prior to the season finale in Los Angeles last year.

— At one point, offensive line coach Harold Goodwin had a conversation with rookie guard Dorian Johnson, who has taken some lumps in camp.

— Blaine Gabbert had a beautiful 45-yard-or-so deep ball to wide receiver Chris Hubert.

— Red-hot linebacker Josh Bynes had another practice interception.

— So did Tyrann Mathieu, who cut right in front of Larry Fitzgerald.


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Raiders aftermath, as Stanton shines

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2017 – 12:01 am

It was a new perspective for me Saturday night, with my new preseason duties as sideline radio reporter putting me down on the field the whole game. The focus goes up when there isn’t Twitter to watch and interact with, that’s for sure. The Cardinals had most things go exactly how they’d like them to have gone. The injuries were limited and minor, and the first-team offense was solid.

But the fact Drew Stanton played so well (11-of-15 passing) was helpful. One, it helps define what the rest of the preseason is about, and in the case of the quarterbacks, that’s whether Blaine Gabbert is someone to keep as a third quarterback rather than supplanting Stanton as No. 2 (not that it was ever that close to being a battle anyway.) The Cardinals took a flier on Gabbert to see if he might have some future value. The plan was always for Stanton to remain No. 2. Stanton’s poise in the pocket impressed Saturday. He also praised strength coach Buddy Morris and that crew for preparing his body so well, noting it’s made a difference. Whatever the reason Stanton got off to such a good start — he had as many completions against the Raiders as he did all of the 2016 preseason — the Cardinals will take it.

— Same with Carson Palmer, who looked sharp. There were a couple of near misses. The Cards will lament greatly if Palmer slightly overthrows a wide-open Jaron Brown for what should’ve been a 46-yard touchdown if it had been the regular season. But the bullet to Brittan Golden for a touchdown was nice, and Palmer maneuvered the pocket well.

— David Johnson, 3 carries for 16 yards. I’m not sure I’d need to see him at all the rest of the preseason. He looked fine.

— Golden is one of those guys who just makes it so hard to cut. Three catches for 44 yards and a score, and he’s good on special teams.

— The punters weren’t busy, but they clearly got the message from coach Bruce Arians. Each only punted once. Matt Wile crushed a 65-yarder (net of 56), Richie Leone launched a 61-yarder (net of 45). Wile’s kickoffs were impressive all night too. In fact, special teams did pretty well. Josh Mauro had a blocked field goal and Kerwynn Williams had a 35-yard kickoff return and a 13-yard punt return. Phil Dawson nailed both field goal tries and two extra points with ease (Wile missed a 46-yard field goal, but again, he won’t be trying field goals when it counts.)

— Linebacker Josh Bynes had a team-best six tackles, a half-sack, a tackle-for-loss, a big forced fumble and a pass breakup. He’s a vet, last of the Lions, signed because of injuries — and you have to wonder if he could make a push for a roster spot. he and Scooby Wright could be fighting for a possible place.

— Gabbert had a tougher time in Game 2, but part of that was the blocking, which didn’t hold up all that well. Gabbert took four sacks. That can’t happen, either with him or with the line.

— Did we mention that DT Robert Nkemdiche is playing well? He did again Saturday — he blew up a third-and-1 play for the Raiders, and was in the middle of stuffing the Raiders on the very next fourth down try — and you can see the confidence is feeding into his upswing. If he plays well, the line will be fine, even post-Calais.

OK, it’s midnight. Cards are off Sunday and back to training camp practice Monday.


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Friday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2017 – 3:02 pm

Finally, some starters.

It could be quick for either of the units against the Raiders. As in years past, if the Cardinals carve up Oakland for an 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession, or the defense forces a couple of quick punts, I could see Bruce Arians sitting down his main guys. To me, this game is important for the offense and the collective confidence. Carson Palmer sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices, so I’m curious to see how that comes together – especially since the receiving crew, beyond Fitz, has been up and down and injured in camp thus far.

Defensively, it sure seems the confidence is there. Robert Nkemdiche is breaking out. Tyrann Mathieu is full-fledged Honey Badger-y. And Palmer and Bruce Arians believe this has been Patrick Peterson’s best camp yet.

Peterson, as usual, is thinking big.

“If you want to be remembered somewhere where you can be forever – which is Canton – those are the things I can control, make sure to continue building up my résumé,” Peterson said (pictured here with Cardinals Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams).

Some other things to think about before the Cards get to a second preseason game, and the Raiders play their first:

— The players in particular I want to watch in the game, even if it is for limited time: CB Justin Bethel, LB Haason Reddick, DT Olsen Pierre, G Evan Boehm, RT Jared Veldheer, WR Jaron Brown and all three QBs: Palmer, Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert.

Some played last week, some did not. Veldheer still hasn’t played right tackle in a game. Seeing Bethel under the lights is important. I want to see how Gabbert follows up with his impressive debut and how Stanton responds to all the Gabbert discussion.

— Arians again praised Stanton all week. I also thought it was interesting to hear Arians speak about Stanton and his hits and misses in practice:

“There has been an interception or two, some are not his fault,” Arians said. “Sometimes when you are running with those twos and threes, guys aren’t where they are supposed to be and you try to force one. I do like that, see if you can get it in that window and see if you can or can’t. No big deal if you throw a pick.”

Dunno if that applies to preseason games as well.

— Punter is something to watch as well. Arians said he wanted to see more from either Matt Wile or Richie Leone (preferably both, but one is enough). I’d guess they will split the punts again. If you can’t punt well at University of Phoenix Stadium – where this and next week’s games are – that’s a red flag.

— We’ll get to see Kerwynn Williams get run as a return man. We know Williams can return kicks OK. How he will do on punts – and whether he could manage that job with T.J. Logan out – is what is in the spotlight.

— Two weeks of training camp left at the stadium. As of now, seven practices are scheduled to be open to the public: Monday through Thursday next week, and Monday through Wednesday the week after.

— Finally, for those who are looking for my constant in-game tweeting, that will drop off quite a bit in the preseason. For the next four games, with Paul Calvisi in the radio booth doing play-by-play, I will be on the sideline as the reporter for the radio broadcasts on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. (And for those who don’t like my constant in-game tweeting, you win!)


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After practice: No hanging heads, and TWill pick

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2017 – 5:10 pm

Early in practice Tuesday, J.J. Nelson dropped a touchdown pass from Carson Palmer in the red zone. The wide receiver was clearly bothered, and walked slowly behind the line of scrimmage where the extra players stood — the second unit’s turn had come up — with his head down. Immediately, Palmer found him. What was said is unknown, but the message was clear, especially when Palmer imitated Nelson’s hanging head: Keep your head up, Palmer was saying, because it’s on to the next play.

Indeed, the next time Nelson was on the field, he caught a pass and Palmer — who this time was not the QB — made sure to seek out Nelson for the congratulatory slap. It’s one of the underrated parts of Palmer’s game, the leadership in such situations.

— It was an eventful practice. The defense was into the battles given that the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense faced off. Linebacker Markus Golden, who loves to talk, was talking quite a bit when the defense was winning its plays.

— The Cardinals slid rookie safety Budda Baker into the first unit in their dime package. One time, both he and Tyrann Mathieu blitzed. Afterward, Baker talked about how much he loved to blitz — another parallel between he and Mathieu.

— Phil Dawson easily drilled a 58-yard field goal among his attempts (without a miss).

— This is how you cultivate a fan base. After the first unit got through part of one period — and Patrick Peterson knew he’d have a few minutes on the sideline — he sent an equipment intern to the sideline where a man and his two boys were sitting. All had Peterson jerseys. The intern fetched the jerseys and took them to Peterson, who quickly signed them all. It was such a brief moment, but the fans were thrilled.

— Interestingly, quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich got to call some offensive plays into the walkie-talkie during one period. It really shouldn’t be a surprise. Bruce Arians likes to groom his young coaches, and getting Leftwich a few reps in the middle of a practice is a good start. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin called the plays in the Hall of Fame game, and I’m guessing he’ll do at least one other game in the preseason.

— The practice ended with a special situation: Offense on the defense’s 8-yard line, 6 seconds left, third down. The first unit started with David Johnson drawing a pass interference in the end zone and then a fade to Larry Fitzgerald for a TD. The second unit was stopped when rookie Chad Williams couldn’t hang on to a pass at the goal line. The third unit scored on a laser from Blaine Gabbert to Carlton Agudosi.

— Newcomer Tramon Williams also got his first interception as a Cardinal, playing zone and jumping on a Drew Stanton pass. “Was able to kind of see the whole picture,” Williams said. “Read the quarterback and just kind of came off. I had a good jump on the ball.”


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Keim: Injuries will decide if Logan returns

Posted by Darren Urban on August 7, 2017 – 8:29 am

It didn’t take much to see what rookie running back T.J. Logan could do in the return game in the preseason opener. Every one saw it. It was a bummer for all when Logan dislocated a wrist, which will force surgery.

“I feel like I jinxed us because about halfway through the game I leaned over to (team president) Michael Bidwill and said, ‘We finally have our punt and kick returner,’ ” General Manager Steve Keim said during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “Because the things he showed, his fearless approach to catching the football in traffic, his footspeed, his acceleration, the burst you saw, gave me the feel he could be very explosive in the return game.”

Coach Bruce Arians said the hope is that Logan returns by midseason. But that isn’t just based on Logan’s recovery. It’s also based on other injuries. Logan is headed for injured reserve, and it’ll depend on circumstances for his return, Keim said.

“It’s hard to forecast injuries and how they heal,” Keim said. “There’s a chance potentially to get that thing to heal and get him back at some point in the season. Whether we do or don’t will be determined on some of the other injuries we incur. Hopefully we won’t have many.”

A new NFL rule says teams can bring two players — not just one — back from IR after eight weeks. And teams don’t have to designate who those players are until a week before their return, so there is flexibility.

Among Keim’s other comments:

— He said it’s premature to be talking about Blaine Gabbert overtaking Drew Stanton for No. 2 QB. But Gabbert has shown a quick grasp of the offense, and Keim liked that he didn’t always look to run if his first read wasn’t there.

— On defense, Keim raved about second-round safety Budda Baker, and liked the play of defensive linemen Robert Nkemdiche and Olsen Pierre.


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Good news on Bucannon, not on Logan

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2017 – 11:04 am

A quick update long distance (thanks, streaming azcardinals.com) after practice today, before I head over to Canton for Kurt Warner’s induction.

— Good news on Deone Bucannon. Bruce Arians said he’s on target to return for the opener, due to get about a week of practice (although the coach admitted again he’d rather have the $LB get about 10 days in a perfect world.) The fact that Karlos Dansby (leg) is supposed to be returning to practice this week means the position hopefully is moving in the right direction health-wise.

— Not good news of rookie running back T.J. Logan. Kyle will have the full story soon, but he dislocated a wrist and needs surgery. Arians said Logan will be out 12 weeks and needs surgery. He will go on injured reserve, but the idea is that he’ll be back around Week 8 and would be one of the Cardinals’ returns from IR.

— LB Jarvis Jones is out a week with a disc issue.

— Arians said Blaine Gabbert “has a chance” to unseat Drew Stanton as the No. 2 QB, but there’s a long way to go, and Stanton knows the offense so much better.


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Hall of Fame game aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2017 – 11:31 pm

It’s late here in Canton — past 2 a.m. — so this is going to be an efficient post, in part because it’s the first of five preseason games and yeah, the preseason. That doesn’t mean things of importance can’t happen. You wish the head coach wasn’t saying “fingers crossed” about an injury to the rookie who was already showing he could be that dynamic return man you had been seeking.

But it was hard not to notice quarterback Blaine Gabbert as the top story of the evening. With all the caveats of preseason/the Cowboys only using three defensive starters, Gabbert looked very good in completing 11-of-14 passes for 185 yards. What does this mean? It means that Gabbert succeeded when, frankly, he should have. Beyond that, we’ll still see.

The last time a new Cardinals QB played so well in the preseason opener? (It just happened to be the last time a Cardinal was going into the Hall of Fame, Aeneas Williams.) Logan Thomas completed 11-of-12 passes against the Texans, for 113 yards and a TD. We all know how that turned out. Now, Gabbert is not Thomas. As much as Gabbert has struggled, his NFL career was still light years better. But it’s a reminder to hold off on grand pronouncements.

— Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Kurt Warner had his party Thursday night, and both Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Wilson made it over there to celebrate post-game.

— Logan really looked good as a return man. For a guy who hadn’t returned punts in college, he impressed.

— Tight ends Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah also made some plays. Momah in the passing game, grabbing three receptions. If he is able to play special teams like he did last year before getting hurt, Momah has a place on this roster.

— Andre Ellington scored on a three-yard run that showed some grit, fighting his way between the tackles. If you recall, Bruce Arians said Ellington had to run tougher. The TD run was a good sign.

— Rookie safety Budda Baker made some plays. Arians praised Haason Reddick too.

— Robert Nkemdiche took a step forward again, playing much of the time in the first half. He busted up a couple of plays. He says being healthy, he feels more like himself. Again, he’s going in the right direction.

— The backups who played the offensive line for Gabbert mostly held up (from left tackle, Wetzel, Kaleb Johnson, Toner, Bergstrom, John.) The second-unit pass rushers who started didn’t generate enough pressure.

— The Cardinals return to practice Saturday (it’s closed to the public). Meanwhile, I’ll be here in Canton, covering Warner’s induction. Look for my big Warner-years-in-Arizona story tomorrow (today, here in the Eastern time zone).

UPDATE: Some are wondering why I didn’t bring up the missed field goals, and it’s simple. Phil Dawson didn’t kick. The punters, Richie Leone and Matt Wile, kicked, each missed a field goal, but the punter will only be kicking when it counts if Dawson goes down in a game. That’s unlikely to happen.

 


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After practice: Peterson picks and some Smoke

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2017 – 5:59 pm

The day off seemed to do good things for some guys on the practice field Thursday (and it didn’t hurt that the humidity, which was a killer Tuesday, was way better.) Some key guys looked good, not the least of whom being wide receiver John Brown. Brown looks past his health concerns. He is blazing when he runs around out there. One play in particular stood out to me Thursday, a 31-yard route to the pylon in which Brown went up and made the catch of a Drew Stanton throw with his hands, Justin Bethel right there in tight coverage. (There’s a picture of it below.) A healthy and fast Smokey Brown is a good Smokey Brown.

— Patrick Peterson made a couple of picks, once in a one-on-one drill with Brown (which is so hard for a defensive back) and again in 7-on-7 and in both cases it looked like Peterson was the one running the route.

— Robert Nkemdiche blew up a running play in 11-on-11 and looked explosive in one-on-one drills. It’s one day — and yes, in the video, he’s going against raw rookie Dorian Johnson — but the defensive tackle is going in the right direction. Nkemdiche tossed the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Johnson to the ground during one matchup.

— WR Aaron Dobson pulled up after a play with some sort of left leg issue and he was not happy. It’ll be interesting to see if it is anything serious.

— RB Chris Johnson joined Carson Palmer with a day off. Tackle Jared Veldheer also wasn’t out there.

— There was a play in which the pass protection started to break down and quarterback Blaine Gabbert basically had to sling a pass without any ability to step into the throw — and it was a laser to a wide-open Chad Williams 18 yards down the field. Gabbert unquestionably has arm strength, that’s for sure.

— If there is any question about Larry Fitzgerald’s mindset, I leave you with this: Fitz makes a catch coming across the field. Wide open. He leans a bit forward and ends up falling to the ground. Fitz was angry. “Stay on your damn feet!” he barked at himself.


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After practice: Scooby makes his mark

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2017 – 5:15 pm

After a request to get a little more detailed about how practice goes, Kyle Odegard and I will try to give a few notes after each practice along those lines. Here’s one from Tuesday, which starts with linebacker Scooby Wright. Scooby loves to hit.

There wasn’t any true tackling that was supposed to happen per se, but Wright and big running back Elijhaa Penny came together on one big collision in which Wright hauled Penny to the ground. Later, Wright had another big hit. It’s still early to know if Wright will make the 53-man roster, but he’s certainly made an impression in the offseason and the start if camp. He’s good on special teams and he’s got that aggressive mentality.

Wright even had an interception of a Drew Stanton pass that came off the hands of a receiver — although Stanton likely would have been sacked on the play had there been sacks. The defensive pressure likely would have caused a few sacks earlier in practice. The protection seemed to improve as time went on

— Blaine Gabbert had some nice throws Tuesday (although he threw an interception to rookie linebacker Tre’Von Johnson that never had a chance to be completed.) Gabbert’s future is going to likely rest on preseason games, but you can tell he’s at one level and undrafted rookie Trevor Knight is below. Knight mostly was a spectator during team work Tuesday with the other three QBs getting the work.

— It’s been humid inside the stadium. Not sure if it’s just moist grass being rolled in or the weather outside, but I’m guessing players are losing quite a few pounds each workout with the sweat.


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And then there were four (QBs)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 5, 2017 – 3:35 pm

Zac Dysert wasn’t out of work long. He was cut by the Cardinals Friday and then claimed off waivers by the Cowboys, it was announced by the league today. Dysert didn’t last as long as the previous third QB, Matt Barkley, in terms of seeing what he had. Barkley at least made it through training camp.

But circumstances change. One, it means that Trevor Knight, the undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M, has shown enough in this short time to impress — at least impress enough to keep him over Dysert. It also means the Cards — not surprisingly, given the praise coach Bruce Arians has delivered anytime he is asked — are happy with Blaine Gabbert thus far. Third, it means that they are good with Carson Palmer having his normal workload in training camp, even with an extra week of camp and extra preseason game.

There is context needed everywhere. I don’t expect Palmer to get a lot more preseason work, so with an extra game, there should be more preseason game reps for Gabbert, Knight and Drew Stanton. As for Stanton — and Gabbert — last week Arians said clearly that Stanton remains the No. 2 QB. I don’t expect that to change this season, but camp can always make an impact. (It won’t, IMO.) Still, QB is always a sexy position, and there will be plenty of stories of all four guys once camp starts in mid-July.


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