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Blogs

The roster heading into camp

Posted by Darren Urban on July 15, 2014 – 3:55 pm

Next week is the week.

With the Cardinals’ decision-makers trickling back into the building, the end of minicamp has been a moratorium of sorts. Time off is the important thing, and with no football-related things going on, there was no reason to make any roster changes over the last month-plus. But that potentially changes Monday when everyone is back in Tempe and the Cards gear up for the camp that starts at the end of the week.

That’s no guarantee anything will happen. Last season, the Cardinals didn’t do anything to the roster (save for signing a couple of draftees) after May 21 until right as camp was starting. The biggest reasons? It was time to put Ryan Swope on the retired list (bringing in Robby Toma) and the Cardinals needed to clear room for linebacker John Abraham and tackle Eric Winston. That made just a bit of a splash as camp opened.

The Cards last transaction was June 9. Could they have another veteran or two that make sense to sign? If it’s going to happen without someone getting injured, this is the time. Vets on the market know they probably aren’t going to make the kind of money they once thought they might (Tyson Clabo, anyone?). This time around, I’m thinking the Cards have some faith in Bobby Massie, enough of which to see how he develops these next few weeks. I don’t know of any decent pass rushers hanging out either. Don’t forget, last year, Bruce Arians was still trying to get a handle on his players. Now, he knows better what they can do.

This isn’t to say the Cardinals aren’t going to stand pat with the roster. Things can change quickly, with players taking physicals next week and everything. You want to maximize the roster as practices begin. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how it all evolves, heading toward that 53-man lineup the Cards must pare down to prior to the season opener against the Chargers.


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A look at the rookies

Posted by Darren Urban on June 16, 2014 – 10:54 am

The rookie class had a (not surprisingly) mixed bag of results in OTAs and minicamp. That’s what rookies do. Still, they are going to mean something this season, especially with the way coach Bruce Arians is willing to play them.

“I like all the rookies,” veteran defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. “There are three or four of those rookies that are going to make a big impact on our season. We don’t know which ones (yet), but it’s going to happen. You want to help them and let them know on the field and off the field, you have to be accountable and it’s not just about showing up for practice. We know we are going to need four or five of those rookies.”

Because the pads haven’t gone on yet, it’s possible two guys who have been way under the radar so far — defensive ends Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson — could be making large impacts. The way the Cardinals like to rotate the defensive line, both guys will get a shot to get in there, one would think. They also turn the defensive line from a thin area to one of serious depth, when you add in Frostee Rucker and (eventually) Alameda Ta’amu to Dockett, Calais Campbell and Dan Williams.

We all know safety Deone Bucannon is going to get his chance. That’s what happens with first-round picks. That turf toe slowed him, but it was a good sign Bucannon made sure to get back on the field in minicamp. Second-round Troy Niklas is behind and the idea he might still be sidelined into training camp with his broken hand isn’t the best news, but the kid is itching to get out on the field and do something. Adding John Carlson, and with the way Rob Housler has looked up until this point, helps, since Niklas doesn’t have to be out there right away if he isn’t ready. Speaking of not ready, that’s quarterback Logan Thomas, but he was always a long-term vision anyway.

That leaves the wide receivers. John Brown (below) has been mentioned a lot. No, I don’t see him displacing Ted Ginn. Not immediately. But at some point, could he be the No. 3 behind Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald? Very possible. He was the guy getting extra direction from both Arians and Carson Palmer in minicamp, more than any other wideout. That’s because he has a lot to learn, but also because the Cards need him to learn it quickly, because they want to use him. As for Walt Powell, he to showed some things, and after what the Cards got out of a sixth-round pick a year ago (Andre Ellington), who’s to say he can’t step in and do something? The receiving corps is loaded enough that it will be tough to have Powell move up the depth chart, however.

RookiesBlogBrown


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“Best” to open minicamp, and Niklas hurt

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2014 – 2:13 pm

Bruce Arians said Tuesday’s minicamp practice was the Cardinals’ “best practice so far,” which it notable from the standpoint a) it was pretty freaking hot out there and b) it went longer than an OTA because it’s minicamp and they can go longer. Some of the quick hit notes before I post a Patrick Peterson story later this afternoon:

– Rookie TE Troy Niklas is sidelined again. He had actually returned to the practice field following his hernia surgery that kept him out of the first few OTAs but then got a finger caught and twisted in a jersey last week and broke his hand. And so Niklas goes back to the mental reps, although Arians said Niklas should be ready for training camp.

“It kind of sucks I’m missing out of the reps,” Niklas said. “It’s frustrating. … I feel like I know the offense and I know what to do. Now it’s about teaching my body how to do it.”

– Some good news from the injury front: First-round pick Deone Bucannon was on the field after missing some time with a turf toe. “He needs it psychologically and just to get out and play,” Arians said.

– A couple of high-profile guys out: LB John Abraham, who has sat out almost every OTA so as to not overextend his aging body, reported for minicamp, “threw up a few times,” Arians said, and was sent home. The Cards hope to have him back Wednesday. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald worked out on the side with strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris to protect a hamstring that had been giving him some issues.

– Big praise from Arians about safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Justin Bethel. He even said Bethel could become the Cardinals’ best cornerback at some point given his skill set. We’ll see with Peterson there, but it’s nice to have the confidence of the head coach.

– Who emerges as the starters at right tackle, right guard and tight end can only be determined when the pads go on, Arians reiterated, although he did say Bobby Massie has been “much better” with mental mistakes at right tackle.

– Arians said the reason the Cardinals tried out vet RT Tyson Clabo is because the team is going to look at available bodies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they would sign someone with the sole reason to be the starter.

– Asked to assess what he had seen out of newly signed linebacker Ernie Sims, Arians had a five-second or so pause before saying “OK. OK.” A ringing endorsement it was not.

– The Cardinals have two more days of minicamp before the veterans are released until training camp.

MinicampBlogShotUSE


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Making 2014 a Housler of Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2014 – 12:19 pm

Robby, Bruce Arians said, has had a “fantastic” offseason so far. And that’s at least a start.

Where Rob Housler goes from there, we’ll see. It seems that Housler’s “make-or-break” year, or “year to make a leap” has been every year except his first. The Cardinals are still waiting, and now the reality of the NFL means time grows short. Housler is in the last year of his rookie contract. The Cardinals signed John Carlson (who has looked very good so far), brought Jake Ballard back to health and drafted Troy Niklas. Even, at least in the heat of OTAs, Darren Fells has looked the part. Arians has called his tight ends group “an NFL room right now” and they all certainly look the part. Making this team — and getting playing time — won’t be simple.

Housler, to start, needs to stay on the field. He knows that. He’s battled that since he got into the league, and his ankle injury that derailed him in training camp and then into the regular season last year did not help. Just as things picked up midway through the season he dealt with a missed game with a bad groin. He still had 39 catches and a career-high 454 yards. He still looks like that tight end who could be such a major mismatch/threat down the middle. No, he’s not the blocker that perhaps Arians wants at the position, but he still can bring much to an offense.

With his contract coming up, the motivation will never be greater. Given how the offense runs, Housler’s never going to be a 70-catch guy. Not here. But he can be more than he has been. Arians feels confident with the guys he has at the position now, and seeing how Housler fits into the puzzle — and how that impacts him beyond 2014 — is one of the more intriguing parts of this season.

HosuseUSE

 


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The black stripes are not a band

Posted by Darren Urban on June 3, 2014 – 7:32 am

Those looking at the photos from yesterday’s OTA or the video seemed to notice the black stripe on the Cardinals’ helmets. OK, it wasn’t on all their helmets. It was only on the helmet of the quarterbacks. That alone should give you a hint that it was something else besides some interesting new tweak to the team’s headgear. So no, the Cardinals aren’t going for a new look (although it is kind of catchy, no?)

In fact, it’s a simple way for the coaching staff to have an easier time to see what way the quarterback’s eyes are pointed when watching some of the videoed-from-high-above practice footage every day. The shots that include all 22 players on the field can make everyone look a little small on the screen. This is just another tool to make sure Bruce Arians, assistant head coach Tom Moore, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens have all the information they can in their work with the QBs.

BlackStripeBlog


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Again, getting touchy with Ellington

Posted by Darren Urban on May 28, 2014 – 9:59 am

It seems like once Andre Ellington started playing at the beginning of last season, the amount of touches he was getting/would get/could get on a game-by-game basis was a constant theme. That hasn’t changed. And it came up again when Bruce Arians said he’d like to get Ellington 25 to 30 touches a game.

In a vacuum, a bold statement. But there are reasons to analyze this, not the least of which is that it is May and things most certainly can change by the time the season starts. (Don’t forget that at some point last offseason, the Cardinals were going to a) have Drew Stanton as a starting QB, b) use Kevin Minter as a starting linebacker with Daryl Washington, c) employ Levi Brown all year at left tackle and d) have a pretty limited role for Ellington.)

– Arians made it clear that his guesstimation for Ellington touches would depend on the number of passes Ellington would catch. Ellington’s use as a receiver is a big deal for this team going forward (and should probably be factored in when it comes to where the team stands with their receiving corps.) The Cardinals love Ellington’s pass-catching ability, they love the idea of getting him the ball in space, and they were pleasantly surprised with how effective he could be not only running routes (which he had never really done) but also catching the ball in traffic.

I’d think Arians believes a significant amount of those Ellington touches come in the passing game. And let’s face it, game-to-game, it’s difficult to know exactly how many receptions a guy might make.

– These days, no one gets 25 touches a game, much less 30. There is no bigger workhorse running back than the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. He averaged 22 touches last season. Even in his 2,000-yard rushing season of 2012, Peterson didn’t even get to 25 touches a game (24.3). Last year, Philly’s LeSean McCoy topped the league with 22.9 touches a game. Chicago’s Matt Forte was at 22.7. And it felt like McCoy got the ball all the time.

People like to compare Ellington’s size to Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles. Charles averaged 21.9 touches a game last season.

– Speaking of size, Ellington was officially listed at 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds last year. He figures to put on some muscle, but I keep thinking back to what Arians said last year when people kept wondering why Ellington didn’t touch the ball more often. You don’t want too much of the offense to be on Ellington’s shoulders, the coach reasoned, because if he did get hurt, where does that leave you? (Ellington did fear he had torn knee ligaments during the Cards’ Thanksgiving practice last year, but it turned out to only be a sprain.)

“My goal is to get out there and not take those big hits, to get down when I’m supposed to or not get hit at all,” Ellington said. “But it’s football. You’re going to get tackled. … I just have to be in the best shape so I can be full speed on every play.”

Over Ellington’s last eight appearances last season, he averaged 13.6 touches a game. He had a season-high 17 touches in a game twice. He did not have more than 15 carries in a game. It will be interesting to see how his use morphs this season, and whether or not Ellington really does hover around a 25-touch-per-game average.

Andre2useblog

 

 


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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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A Logan Thomas laser and rookie minicamp

Posted by Darren Urban on May 23, 2014 – 3:42 pm

Arizona State wide receiver Kevin Ozier turned back to the line of scrimmage about 20 yards downfield near the end of Friday’s rookie minicamp practice, just in time to see the missile en route from quarterback Logan Thomas. The ball was just a tad low, and Ozier caught it in his midsection, falling to his knees as he did so. Although “caught” might not quite be the right word, because the ball arrived with such force it almost seemed like it was going to stick in Ozier’s abdomen regardless.

Thomas’ rocket right arm was on full display during the workout inside the Cardinals’ practice bubble. Thomas has gotten reps during OTAs on the second field, but rookie minicamp is almost all his, taking practically every rep Friday. (Tryout QB Eric Kordenbrock from VMI is on hand, but Thomas didn’t need a break, at least Friday.)

“It’s a great start for me,” Thomas said. “It takes time. It’s not something that happens overnight.”

Coach Bruce Arians said Thomas’ biggest hurdle to clear is breaking himself of trying to decide where to throw as he is dropping back. Arians wants him to drop back first and get his feet right.

“When he knows what he is doing, and the guys around him know what he is doing, he’s pretty good,” Arians said.

– It’s almost impossible to know exactly who did well, given all the mistakes that were happening. Arians admitted there were a couple of tryout guys that impressed him (he didn’t say who, specifically) and there were a couple of other rookies that have been around since last week that made more mistakes than he would’ve liked. Again, if the Cardinals decide to sign any of the tryout players, they will have to cut someone from their already full 90-man roster.

– WR John Brown has been out the last couple of days with hamstring tightness. Arians said he will be very careful with the third-round pick. “He was too impressive the first few days not only speed and catching the ball but he didn’t make any mistakes,” Arians said. “One of the first rookies I’ve had that in the first three days he wasn’t on the busted assignment sheet.”

– The Cardinals have 17 players in for tryouts this weekend. (For a full roster of the weekend, click here.) Other than Ozier, who played at ASU here in Tempe, the one other name of note is running back Jalen Parmele. Parmele actually has five years of NFL experience, and was a sixth-round pick of Miami back in 2008. He spent training camp with the Titans last season.

– Arians said he was also happy with third-round defensive end Kareem Martin. “We have to slow him down,” Arians said. “I’d rather say ‘Whoa’ than ‘Sic ‘em,” but he’s around the quarterback way too much. He’s doing a heck of a job. He’s more powerful than I thought he’d be.”

Arians did caution against linemen praise right now, however. “You don’t say much about linemen when we are playing soccer,” Arians said. “When the noise level goes up and they get hit in the mouth and the blood flows a little bit, then I’ll talk about linemen. But he’s been impressive so far in shorts.”

 


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A summer of three kickers

Posted by Darren Urban on May 21, 2014 – 2:57 pm

I’ve been covering the Cardinals full-time since 2000. I don’t ever remember a time when there were three kickers on the roster, even in the offseason and even when the team was actively looking for a kicker. But that’s what the Cardinals have right now, even with incumbent Jay Feely. He is joined by undrafted rookie Chandler Catanzaro out of Clemson and Danny Hrapmann, who has had a couple of cups of coffee with the Steelers. Hrapmann has a big leg even though he’s the smallest of the three. You can see that. Cantanzaro had a solid college career, but because Clemson had a punter (Bradley Pinion) who could kick off, he hasn’t done a lot of it. Neither have the résumé of Feely, who has had a very good 14-year career and nailed 30 of 36 field goals last season.

Bruce Arians hasn’t hidden his desire to create competition at kicker since last training camp (Feely responded well then). Still, it’s odd to have three kickers around. What will be interesting to see is if the Cardinals decided to sign one or two of the tryout players in this weekend’s minicamp. Anyone signed means someone has to be cut. Would the Cards trim the kicking lineup to get back a spot on the 90-man roster, or will the Cards bring three kickers all the way to training camp? Or the preseason? Teams are usually loathe to spend too many roster spots on specialists, even in the summer.

KickersBlogUSE


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QB Logan Thomas comes to Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on May 10, 2014 – 10:19 am

So Friday night, Bruce Arians asked “Why” when he was asked why the Cardinals hadn’t taken a quarterback. Saturday morning, the Cardinals took Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, the definition of a project. As a QB, can Thomas beat out Ryan Lindley? Probably not. But Thomas, at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, has a giant arm and endless athletic talent. He’s not accurate. He is smart enough to play quarterback but all the analysts wonder about his technique and form. That, you figure is exactly what Arians and QB coach Freddie Kitchens think they have a chance to fix.

It’s a boom-or-bust choice, at least as a QB. Thomas could turn into one heckuva tight end. Arians, before the draft, was asked if Thomas could be a quarterback in the NFL. Arians said “he thinks he is,” and I’d think he will get his shot. Arians personally went to Virginia Tech for a pre-draft workout. He clearly likes his potential and he also thinks coaching changes and the talent around Thomas impacted Thomas’ play. But there is no getting around Thomas’ inconsistencies as a passer. This is incredibly intriguing and will be as this plays out.

LoganThomasUSE

 


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