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Blogs

Considering intriguing camp battles

Posted by Darren Urban on July 18, 2014 – 4:17 pm

This isn’t necessarily about starters, since I have already addressed that directly. But the battles of training camp aren’t always about who plays first or the most. Sometimes it’s about roster battles and depth and who plays more than who. Some competition will come seemingly from nowhere — going into camp last season, no one would have guess Paul Fanaika would have gotten into the mix, but the Daryn Colledge injury helped that come into focus — so there will be other players to watch.

But for now, here is some of the competition I will be watching:

Guards Earl Watford, Paul Fanaika, Ted Larsen and Anthony Steen. Larsen has been backing up Lyle Sendlein at center while Steen, who can also back up both spots, didn’t do anything in the offseason recovering from injuries. Someone will be the starting right guard. The Cardinals would like for Watford to step up. It very well could be Fanaika for a second straight season. Watford should be on the roster regardless, so if he’s not starting, that will be a spot that must be won. The Cards likely will only dress seven on game days, making those swing interior guys valuable.

Tackles Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell. OK, everyone knows this one. It doesn’t make it any less intriguing. Like Watford, Massie is the guy the Cardinals would like to win the job. But he’s got to win it. Sowell isn’t going away without a fight. Sowell, however, can be a valuable game-day backup since he played left tackle all last season and can play the right. That’s a one-for-two guy on your bench.

Cornerbacks Justin Bethel and Jerraud Powers. With Tyrann Mathieu still hurt, Powers is an important piece in nickle coverage to start the season. But when Mathieu gets back, can Bethel — who got so much love for his potential this offseason — find a way past Powers on the depth chart? Bethel still has much to prove. Powers has his limitations, but his smarts make him a favorite of Todd Bowles and Bruce Arians.

Inside linebackers Ernie Sims and Kenny Demens. Sims has the experience, but he also has the reputation of struggling the past couple of seasons, which is why he finds himself bouncing around the league. The Cardinals have been intrigued with Demens since his (undrafted) rookie year last year, when he spent most of his time on the practice squad. Sims came in late and is trying to catch up. Losing Daryl Washington sent a lot of things into flux at inside linebacker. One of these guys are vying for a depth role probably behind Kevin Minter, Larry Foote and Lorenzo Alexander.

Kickers Jay Feely, Chandler Catanzaro and Danny Hrapmann. This is another obvious one. Still it’s one to watch. It’s definitely a subject that seems to get the fans riled up — and looking around the league, it’s a position that tends to do that with the fan base, for whatever reason.

Running backs Robert Hughes, Jalen Parmele and Zach Bauman. Arians came out praising Hughes. He figures to be the top choice as the fourth running back behind Ellington, Dwyer and Taylor. But Parmele is another big guy who has played in the league and could sneak his way into the spot instead. What will be interesting is if the Cardinals want less of a bruiser as a fourth, like a Bauman, considering Dwyer is a big back and Taylor is more of a between-the-tackles guy too.

Wide receivers Jaron Brown, Walt Powell and Brittan Golden. The top four receiving spots are taken. Fitz is Fitz and Floyd is Floyd. Ted Ginn will have a role, as will third-round pick John Brown. Brown flashed last year but again, he’s got competition. He’s bigger than Powell and definitely Golden — Golden would seem to be in trouble given the arrival of Brown and Ginn — but Powell is a draft pick and that usually ends up playing a role if it’s close.

Quarterbacks Logan Thomas and Ryan Lindley. It’s hard to believe that, barring a meltdown, Thomas doesn’t find a way on to the roster. But you never know, and both players figure to get plenty of playing time in the preseason to let any battle play out in front of us.

battlesuse

 


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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 27, 2014 – 1:00 pm

Offensively, the Cardinals need to take a step forward this year. They need to so they don’t pressure the defense as much as last year (especially after some unknowns with defensive changes) and they need to so they can keep up in the NFC West arms race. Good news – there is a confidence there it will happen. Who are the guys who will be at the forefront of that plan? Here’s my guess, at least for the regular-season opener. (If you want to see the defensive picks, click here.)

QB – Carson Palmer. Biggest question around Palmer at this point? What happens in 2015, considering Palmer is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. But he is the guy the Cards will ride or die with this season.

RB – Andre Ellington. No-brainer. He’s earned the right, and we’ll see about the touches per game, which I will guess will be 20 to 22 a game.

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. Big year for Fitz, who scored last year like he once did but is still searching for his first 1,000-yard season since 2011 and who is coming to a crossroads – along with the franchise – with his contract in 2015.

WR – Michael Floyd. He’s a star on the rise. He played well last year, and he should be better this season. The third wide receiver should be Ted Ginn, but I fully expect John Brown to at least have a chance to play a role in the offense.

TE – John Carlson. This is assuming he stays healthy, but Carlson has looked good in the offseason and could prove to be a very nice bargain.

TE – Jake Ballard. At some point – maybe not until 2015 – this will be Troy Niklas’ spot. The rookie is far behind right now. Rob Housler still has a chance to work his way into the lineup. But right now, Ballard is feeling good with his knee and he is closer to the blocker that Arians likes.

LT – Jared Veldheer. The left tackle they have always wanted.

LG – Jonathan Cooper. He’s going to be back to health. Time for the 2013 first round pick to get his time on the field and show why the brass so believes in him.

C – Lyle Sendlein. Old reliable is what they want in the middle.

RG – Earl Watford. Paul Fanaika has been running first unit and there is also veteran Ted Larsen lurking as a possibility. But the Cardinals are hoping Watford comes around and takes control of a job he was drafted to have.

RT – Bobby Massie. Another wide open spot. There’s always a possibility of a late-summer free agent signing. Bradley Sowell isn’t go to go away. But Massie has looked better in the offseason work and in a lot of ways, this is probably his last chance to take ahold of the place he held as a rookie.

So that’s that. There will be a lot of time and practices between now and the opener. Injuries happen. Battles will be won or lost. We will see how this guesstimate (educated as it might be) holds up.

BreakHuddleblog


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Photo day, Clabo, and a minor move

Posted by Darren Urban on June 9, 2014 – 2:20 pm

On a day in which the Cardinals took their physicals ahead of this week’s mandatory minicamp (with many top players shooting special pictures and video for various forms of TV for the upcoming season, like Fitz below), the Cardinals are still roster shuffling. The team made a change Monday by releasing guard Christian Johnson and re-signing center John Estes. Estes was just cut by the team a couple of weeks ago after the Cards signed tryout players following rookie minicamp.

Of potentially more impactful news is the report the Cardinals tried out veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo Monday. Clabo, 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, could end up being this year’s Eric Winston (at this point, no, I do not expect Winston to return.) Clabo played with Miami last season, but he spent the vast majority of his career with the Falcons and made a Pro Bowl at one point. If he were to sign, it’d throw another potential starter in the mix and would make a cluttered right tackle competition (already with Bradley Sowell, Bobby Massie and Nate Potter) even more chaotic. At some point, someone isn’t going to get many reps, even with training camp coming. We’ll see if Clabo ends up with a deal, or if that becomes a waiting game closer to training camp.

UPDATE: Clabo and the Cardinals did not come to an agreement.

Regardless, minicamp starts tomorrow. And by Thursday afternoon, the veterans will have scattered for the rest of the offseason, returning in late July for training camp.

FitzBlogPHOTOuse

 

 


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Splitting right side reps and OTA notes

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2014 – 1:27 pm

Last week, Bobby Massie (at right tackle) and Earl Watford (right guard) started getting some work with the first unit. It wasn’t that surprising, given how open the job is right now. Bruce Arians clarified it a little more after Tuesday’s OTA, which again featured Massie and Watford with the first unit. By the time the Cards go through six OTAs, Arians said, Massie-Watford and Bradley Sowell-Paul Fanaika will each get three with the first unit. The reps will continue to be divvied up, and let’s face it, nothing can be determined now because offensive linemen aren’t even blocking now. There’s no way to prove yourself in the time of year when, as Arians likes to say, the Cardinals are just playing soccer. The true depth chart/starting jobs won’t be figured out until training camp and the preseason.

(Although, for instance, Massie must sidestep too many mental errors right now, the bugaboo that Arians and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin like to bring up.)

– Tuesday’s workout was moved an hour earlier with the heat. No bubble will be used when there are this many players. You can only have so many guys inside. Besides, Arians said, “we need the heat to get in shape.” They’ll get in shape, that’s for sure. With some missing players and the fact Arians uses two fields, all the main guys were taking a ton of reps Tuesday. If you were looking to see, for instance, Larry Fitzgerald vs. Antonio Cromartie, there were plenty of opportunities.

– The rookies are a little banged up after minicamp. First-round pick Deone Bucannon has a minor turf toe, Arians said. WR Walt Powell also had to sit out.

– The early thoughts on Andre Ellington from Arians? Hopefully 25 to 30 touches a game, which is a ton and basically unheard of these days for a running back. A lot of that will have to do with Ellington’s receptions (Arians has made no secret he wants to use Ellington a bunch as a receiver). There’s no question Ellington is the No. 1 back. How that translates to the stat sheet, we will see.

– Arians did say the Cardinals will use more two-back packages than last season, and that’s not the time when a tight end moves back there. There will be no true fullback on the roster, but both Jonathan Dwyer and Robert Hughes are beefy enough to be in there, I’d think.

– As the team waits on word about Daryl Washington’s status, Arians said he would like to add a veteran inside linebacker if the right guy came available. That’s not a big surprise.

SplitRightBlogUSE

 


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Lining up to begin OTAs

Posted by Darren Urban on May 20, 2014 – 10:05 am

There are, in the end, few starting spots that will truly be up for grabs as the Cardinals move toward the regular season. That’s reality. But as the Cards begin organized team activities today, there are some things to watch for. Through the Phase 2 work, there have been certain people running with the first unit. For instance, on the offensive line, Bradley Sowell is the first-team right tackle and Paul Fanaika remains the starting right guard. Bobby Massie and Earl Watford are with the second team. I don’t know if that is going to change before we get to training camp — I’d be a little surprised if it did — and camp will be when Massie and Watford will have to make their push.

At tight end, there’s been a lot of work for John Carlson and Jake Ballard and I think Rob Housler is going to have to work hard to stay up on the depth chart, although with his skill set and Bruce Arians’ love for multiple tight ends there will be plenty of work to go around. On defense, Kevin Minter and Daryl Washington are your inside linebackers, although Larry Foote is there to step in if Washington can’t be there. On the outside, Matt Shaughnessy and Sam Acho are getting reps although I’d expect John Abraham to be the starter when he’s around (remember, all this work is voluntary right now).

The rookies, meanwhile, will be worked in slowly. It was interesting to see first-round pick Deone Bucannon basically shadow Tony Jefferson at strong safety during the Phase 2 run-throughs of defensive plays. That’s one way to learn on the job. I anticipate a two-field system like last summer for the young players, although we’ll see if Arians sticks with that. I’ll have more after today’s workout.

DefesnivehikeUSE


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B.A. + draft = playing time

Posted by Darren Urban on April 28, 2014 – 11:47 am

One of the reasons Steve Keim liked hiring Bruce Arians as head coach was because Arians was so blunt in proclaiming his ability to go young. Young, in this league, often means inexperienced and with the potential for mistakes, and that’s not always a coach’s favorite thing. Of all the ways Arians and predecessor Ken Whisenhunt are different, it is the use of the inexperienced that stands out the most.

Last year, first-round pick Jonathan Cooper and third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu each were inserted into the starting lineup (although Cooper’s injury sidelined him). Andre Ellington got more and more time as the season went on. It’s not as if Whisenhunt didn’t play rookies, but looking at first-round picks alone — the guys you would think would play a lot from the outset — Whiz clearly moved them in slowly. Patrick Peterson was an anomaly (and don’t forget, if it wasn’t for a Greg Toler injury, even PP might’ve started the year on the bench.) Michael Floyd, Dan Williams, Beanie Wells, DRC all were slow to be worked in. Levi Brown needed Oliver Ross’ injury.

Meanwhile, Arians doesn’t bat an eye to go to a Mathieu, or to stick a Bradley Sowell in at left tackle when Brown fails. It leads you to a couple of thoughts. One, whomever is drafted May 8-10 could make an immediate impact. It’ll depend on who it is and what position they play, but even though Arians has repeatedly said this team could go play the season as is and it would work, I’m guessing there will be draft picks that make a difference a la Mathieu and Ellington. The other is that if you are a young player upon whom this staff hesitates, you clearly need to ramp it up, for example, Bobby Massie. It’s not age alone that will provide hesitation in getting you on the field.

CoopBAuse

 


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Eric Winston elected NFLPA president

Posted by Darren Urban on March 19, 2014 – 9:32 am

Eric Winston, currently a free agent but the Cardinals’ starter at right tackle last season, was elected president of the NFL Players Association Wednesday, replacing the outgoing Domonique Foxworth. Winston, who has started 119 straight games in his career, has been active in the NFLPA since 2010 when he was named one of the player reps for the Houston Texans. He has served on the NFLPA’s finance committee and the committee for agent discipline. It makes a ton of sense. Winston is intelligent and he understands the ins and outs of the business that is the NFL.

UPDATE: It’s been a big day for Cardinals and the top of the union food chain. Kicker Jay Feely and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander were elected to the NFLPA’s executive committee as well.

Winston said at the end of the season he wanted to return to the Cardinals, but he knows the reality. He made about $2 million last year in an incentive-laden deal. I’m sure he’d like more and for more years than just one, but the Cardinals will likely approach his situation much like last year — looking for younger options, and seeing where Winston stands after those options are explored. Bobby Massie is still around as a potential right tackle and there is also Bradley Sowell, but the Cardinals figure to add another possibility there.

Someone asked if I thought Winston’s position as NFLPA president would hurt his chances to return to Arizona. I don’t think so. What would hurt his chances is if the Cards sign a veteran right tackle, or if they draft one. Winston went unsigned until training camp was opening last season. I don’t know if that will happen again, but it wouldn’t be shocking if it did. He is a smart, stabilizing force in the locker room, however, so if he is on the roster, the Cards get more than just an offensive lineman.

WinstonPrezUSE


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Ongoing task of rebuilding the O-line

Posted by Darren Urban on March 17, 2014 – 12:15 pm

The Cardinals got themselves a left tackle. That was the main goal of free agency, and it was accomplished with the Jared Veldheer signing last week. Questions remain about what the offensive line will look like for the Cards in 2014, with veteran Eric Winston still a free agency and Daryn Colledge released. In reality, three of the positions are set, barring something crazy:

LT — Veldheer
LG — Jonathan Cooper
C — Lyle Sendlein

There are questions about the other two spots. At right guard, the Cardinals are hoping 2013 fourth-round pick Earl Watford can step into the starting role after watching all last season. Watford looks the part, a big, athletic, not-sloppy-at-all 295 pounds. On the roster right now, the main competition should come from either Paul Fanaika, who started at the spot all last season after Cooper’s injury, or free-agent signee Ted Larsen. I don’t see them adding another guard in free agency, but we’ll see. The draft is a different animal, but again, I don’t see another guard in the offing.

Right tackle is a different story. With Winston unsigned — and who knows if he is coming back here — the options are Bobby Massie (the leader in the clubhouse right now), Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter. I think they see Sowell as a reserve swing tackle who could back up both spots. Potter is in a big offseason; he had a lot of chances last year to step up and he did not. He’ll be fighting for a spot on the roster. I could see them still signing a vet right tackle as a free agent at some point, and it would definitely be an option in the draft.

The Cardinals are not done trying to upgrade the line, one way or the other.

WatfordForBLOG


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Massie a right tackle and O-line improvement

Posted by Darren Urban on February 21, 2014 – 3:10 pm

Bobby Massie finished his 2012 rookie season playing pretty well at right tackle after a horrendous start to his career. He seemed like a natural piece of the 2013 offensive line, until the Cards signed veteran Eric Winston as training camp began. Over the season, Massie eventually got a few snaps at right tackle, but he never displaced Winston, who is an unrestricted free agent. If Winston comes back, Massie will be his competition. Massie isn’t playing guard or on the left side, as the Cardinals try to improve the offensive line.

“(Bobby) is a right tackle,” Arians said. “He’s not a left tackle. We experimented with that and he struggled with it. He’s a right tackle and he’s talented. The biggest thing right now is to be more consistent every day in his work habits.”

Does Massie fit in to the 2014 starting line? He very well could. But so much is up in the air, and it goes well beyond Massie and Winston. It’s assumed, and probably not incorrectly, that the Cardinals will seek an offensive lineman or two in free agency. It’s likely they will look into Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert if he reaches free agency (Kansas City GM John Dorsey said Friday the Chiefs have talked to Albert’s agent at the combine about an extension) and reports surfaced Friday that the Cards might also look into Rams tackle.guard Rodger Saffold (Rams GM Les Snead said Friday re-signing Saffold was a priority.)

It is realistic to think the Cards could have new starters at four of five positions on the line by the time games count in 2014 (center Lyle Sendlein is likely safe.). It’s also possible the line doesn’t change. Friday, Arians wouldn’t commit to the Cards having a new player in the lineup (other than the return of injured guard Jonathan Cooper), saying only the line needed to get bigger and stronger.

“Whether it is adding pieces to the puzzle or improving the players we have, we have Coop back, Earl (Watford) to the development, you add those two young guards will make us more athletic and create good competition with the veterans,” Arians said. “We are looking at adding pieces, one tackle, two, whatever we find is best to fit our locker room.”

The Cardinals also probably want to get cheaper at parts of the line, especially if they pay a premium for a free agent. That too can impact the equation — and make a guy like Massie more attractive.

MassieBlogUSE


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Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 6, 2013 – 3:03 pm

It’s hard to get away from what is the main storyline for Sunday: Is Carson Palmer going to be the quarterback?

Coach Bruce Arians sounded pretty confident Friday talking about it and was in a pretty good mood too after practice. If the key starting QB had been hurt in this way under the old regime, playing or not, you could usually tell on the face of former coach Ken Whisenhunt. But Arians is a true believer in next man up – he was the same way with Andre Ellington’s injury on Thanksgiving – and he does have Drew Stanton, a man to whom Arians was prepared to start before the Palmer trade happened.

And again, Palmer may indeed be playing and the limited work all week comes down to making sure the vet was rested. I did think it was interesting that Arians made it clear that he thought the two interceptions Palmer threw had nothing to do with a sore elbow. And Palmer, who was hurt on his first drop-back in Philly, did throw for 302 yards and three touchdowns after that.

The Cards need Palmer. That’s no slight to Stanton but instead the acknowledgement that for whatever issues Palmer has had with turnovers this season, the offense has clicked a lot more of late and that is necessary going into a crucial game with the Rams Sunday.

– The Cardinals will have Andre Ellington back and that’s a huge deal. Pairing him with an improving Rashard Mendenhall means the Cardinals have a formidable tandem with which to run – meaning that whether you have Palmer and an iffy elbow or Stanton playing QB, the Cards have good options on offense upon which to lean.

– It’s been an eternity since the Cards went to St. Louis to play. “It’s funny to watch them on film,” Palmer said. “It seems so long ago.” What doesn’t seem so long ago was the loss incurred that day – because the eventual 27-24 decision in which the Cardinals led by 11 in the fourth quarter is hurting the team big right now in the playoff chase. The swing that would have happened in the overall, conference and division records would have been momentous.

– Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek scored three touchdowns last week against Arizona, and we know all about tight end issues against the Cards’ defense (remember St. Louis’ Jared Cook in Week One, getting it started?) There’s a give-and-take there, though.

“Going into a ballgame, you try to take away (LeSean) McCoy, try to take away (Desean) Jackson, try to take away (Riley) Cooper, and you try to maintain and limit what the tight ends can do,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “You don’t let the big three beat you. We accomplished that. The tight ends got loose for a couple balls inside the red zone. I think we need to play better red zone coverage. The 24-yard touchdown pass there was some technical issues we need to clean up. But going into the game, (tight end) was probably fourth on the totem pole.”

Said linebacker Daryl Washington on the tight end subject, “I think it’s a small adjustment. I don’t think it’s a major issue.”

– I don’t think there is any question that as good as Cook was the first time around, the Cardinals are going to want to make sure Tavon Austin and Chris Givens don’t break off big plays. So we’ll see how that develops when it comes to Cook.

– Speaking of Washington, remember, he didn’t play the first time these teams met. That would seem to be a major factor in the Cards’ favor.

– No one is going out on a limb here, but Eric Winston vs. Chris Long and Robert Quinn vs. Bradley Sowell matchups are probably the key to the game.

– Speaking of the offensive line, the Cardinals used Bobby Massie for 11 offensive snaps last week in Philly as a jumbo tight end in running packages. I don’t think Massie would ever be thrown a pass — “I’m athletic enough to do anything,” Massie said with a smile – but his presence has helped the running game.

“It’s a good thing getting a chance to play,” Massie said. “It’s better than standing on the sideline watching.”

Until Sunday …


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