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Time for the defense to recalibrate

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2014 – 9:52 am

Perhaps the day off Tuesday came at the right time for the Cardinals. The defense can digest the season-ending injury to Darnell Dockett, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can start to sort out how exactly he will run his defense with the pieces he has left. You can sit and mull what the Cardinals don’t have now compared to 2013, but it’s a moot point.

Along the defensive line, the Cardinals are expected to add a vet to the roster (Brett Keisel went back to Pittsburgh) but veteran Frostee Rucker should end up as the starter alongside Calais Campbell and Dan Williams. There should be plenty of mixing and matching, though, with rookies Ed Stinson and Kareem Martin and now, Alameda Ta’amu, who comes back to practice today. There would have been mixing and matching even if Dockett was healthy. Getting a steady rotation on the defensive line has been one of the main themes GM Steve Keim wanted to accomplish while re-tooling the roster. The key here could be Ta’amu, because if he can return to form relatively quickly, it will impact the middle of that line.

At linebacker, there have long been concerns and whenever Kevin Minter returns to the field, that probably doesn’t go away. I thought Larry Foote played pretty well in Minnesota and it was encouraging to see newcomer Desmond Bishop do what he did in a handful of plays, but the question marks don’t go away and now you don’t have a guy like Dockett in front of them. The plus is that outside linebacker John Abraham is back (his return to practice, pictured below, was seriously overshadowed Monday by the Dockett news) but again, until he plays his way into shape, it’s tough to know what he’ll bring.

In the secondary, the Cardinals not only have all their guys still but now Tyrann Mathieu is back in the mix too. That group remains the strongest, although playing out on an island at times means they need the front seven to come through. That was a bit troubling to hear Bruce Arians talk about how many times the Cardinals did not run their blitzes correctly in Minnesota — Bowles was magical last year the way he schemed players to often get to the quarterback untouched — and that will be a key to this whole thing.

The Cardinals’ offense will be better this season and they will need to be. Regardless, the Cardinals aren’t going to get where they want to go unless the defense plays at a high level. They will have to do it differently than they once planned.

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Dockett carted off with ACL injury

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2014 – 4:16 pm

UPDATE: Dockett tore his ACL and is out for the season. Here is the story.

The first practice of the last week of training camp didn’t go the way the Cardinals would have liked, not when defensive tackle Darnell Dockett went down during the workout and had to be carted off the field with a right knee injury. Dockett was headed to get an MRI on the injury, and it’s safe to say the Cardinals are holding their breath it is not serious. It’s tough to tell right now, although Dockett did look to be in some pain before he left.

“It was a routine play and Darnell was going hard,” defensive tackle Dan Williams said. “I don’t know the extent of the injury, but it’s part of football. His foot just got stuck in the ground. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Defensive end Calais Campbell said he didn’t see the play.

“It’s a tough situation to be in,” Campbell said. “He’s a great player, one we count on to be a leader. I’m not sure how serious it is, and hopefully he’ll come back soon but it’s always a scary moment when they bring the cart out.”

The Cardinals’ defensive line has been hammered with injuries. Defensive Bruce Gaston sat out Monday with his knee injury, Williams has missed time because of his knee and nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu remains on the PUP list while he rehabs his ACL injury. Dockett has been remarkably durable, missing only two games out of 160 possible in his 10-year career.

Injuries, though, are part of the game.

“People go down every day almost,” Campbell said. “Sometimes it’s simple and they come right back into practice and sometimes it’s serious. It depends. In football, when people go down, you move the ball up and keep playing football. Since I was 6 years old playing the game, it’s always been when someone goes down, next man up.”


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Vikings (late) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2014 – 11:35 pm

It’s preseason, and rarely do things matter less in the NFL than a touchdown scored in the waning minutes of the second oreseason game. The reality is almost every player on the field at that point in the game won’t be in the NFL in a month.

In the grand scheme of things, Zach Bauman’s six-yard lateral run (?) of the loose ball batted backward by center John Estes was the play of Saturday night, right? It’s the kind of play that might’ve lived forever had it happened in a regular season game. It was fourth down, the Cardinals were going for it down three on the Minnesota 6-yard line because there is no way Bruce Arians was going to go to overtime in the preseason, and then Estes’ snap didn’t connect with quarterback Ryan Lindley. The ball rolled around. Estes, in the officials’ eyes, batted it backward, although oblong as it is, the ball took a turn toward the Vikings’ goal line, and Bauman scooped it up and improbably scored.

“Saw a play I haven’t seen in 22 years,” Arians said, before deadpanning, “that touchdown … that was designed.”

Even Lindley was willing to have fun with it.

“You know when we ran (at practice) and coach went off the field?” Lindley said, referring to the fight-induced punishment Thursday. “That’s really what we did, we got the defense some scout team reps, and we let it ride.”

For those wondering, here was the official comment from referee Craig Wrolstad:

“The ball was snapped, it was a backwards pass. The snap is considered the backwards pass. Any backwards pass can be advanced by any team, any direction, on any down. It wasn’t a fumble because the snap was never possessed by any of the players. The ball was snapped, it rolled around, it was knocked around a couple times, nobody ever had control of the ball. Nobody ever had control of the ball, so nobody ever had possession, so it was not a fumble.”

Wild. It worked out for Bauman too, clearly.

Some other quick thoughts before I try to actually get some sleep on this flight home:

– The Cardinals know they have to be better on special teams. This goes beyond who the kicker might be. The coverage wasn’t good – Arians said as much – and Lorenzo Alexander knows it needs to improve quickly.

“They probably have one of the premier return units in the league, but as a cover unit, we definitely have to step up and put our defense in better field positions, and also create turnovers,” Alexander said, adding “we still have a lot of moving parts, lot of young guys, but it’s no excuse. Special teams is about want-to, effort and heart.”

– The only injury Arians knew of was tackle Max Starks, who tweaked the same left ankle that has been giving him trouble.

– Newly signed linebacker Desmond Bishop wasn’t supposed to dress but he did and he played. He flashed a couple of times too. The veteran was a very good player before he had serious injuries the past two years. His progress bears watching.

– The starting defense did OK. I think they’d like to do better. I thought Calais Campbell was effective early, and I thought linebacker Larry Foote was too. That group is going to jump a level when DC Todd Bowles starts game-planning.

– It was too bad the crazy Bauman play didn’t win the game, but the third unit defenders didn’t have a good night. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have been in the position late anyway, at least not how they got there. I thought the long pass interference drawn by receiver Kevin Ozier to set up the Cards’ final TD wasn’t a good call.

– The 19-play drive that scored a touchdown to open the third-quarter was a thing of beauty in terms of possession (and in terms of a preseason game and running the clock, but that’s me being selfish). It ate up 10:06 on the clock, and 14 of the plays were runs. No runs for more than seven yards and the Cards needed to convert a couple of fourth downs, but it was an exercise in being physical.

That’s enough for now.


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Impressing the boss and many B.A. notes

Posted by Darren Urban on August 4, 2014 – 12:25 pm

When the pads go on and the tackling starts, players can make an impact. Two young guys who did that during the Fan Fest work were tight end Darren Fells and undrafted rookie defensive tackle Bruce Gaston. Arians mentioned both by name Monday as having caught his eye Saturday, and there is nothing better than having your coach call you out in a good way during a press conference. That’s twice for Fells in a week, too. And as you know, three times is the charm.

(Actually, it will be really interesting to see what happens with Fells and the other tight ends. The Cardinals aren’t keeping five. Fells could go back to practice squad, but would he clear waivers? Would the Cardinals look at a trade? A lot of camp to go so maybe Fells’ star fades, but it’s an intriguing situation.”

Arians also mentioned Robert Hughes and Jonathan Dwyer, and again, those two look like the natural backs to join Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor on the 53 in early September.

Gaston also creates a dilemma if he indeed stays in contention for the roster. “He was blowing up some blockers and made a name for himself in that scrimmage.” Figure the Cardinals will keep six defensive linemen. Dockett, Campbell, Dan Williams and the two rookies Martin and Stinson seem like locks. Alameda Ta’amu might be on PUP, but what about Frostee Rucker, who also seems like a lock? Would the Cardinals keep seven defensive linemen?

– One of the reasons left guard Jonathan Cooper has struggled is going against defensive end Calais Campbell, who has played at a Pro Bowl level the last couple of years.

“Coop is getting there. He’s still a rookie,” Campbell said. “I don’t feel bad beating him. I mean I kind of do a little bit but I know I have to go hard against him so he can be football-ready because the first game he’ll have to step up and play big for us.

“Me and Coop are great friends. You don’t want to make him look bad in theory. But it is best for the team for me to go strong, and get him game-ready. We’ve had some good battles.”

Arians said Cooper responded well Saturday to his “disappointed” comments.

– WR John Brown (hamstring) will miss practice again today.

– Arians said he expects everyone to play Saturday against Houston, barring injury. He does hope Brown is back and playing. Starters will go about 15 plays.

– Arians update on the return of absent linebacker John Abraham. “I would hope next week,” he said. Added that with Abraham’s experience, missing a couple weeks of camp was not a big deal.

– Logan Thomas will be the third QB against Houston and play most of the fourth quarter. Ryan Lindley will get that chance the following game in Minnesota.

– Reminder that today’s practice is closed to the public. That gives Arians a chance to see how his team responds. There were an announced 23,000 at the Fan Fest scrimmage Saturday, which provided energy as a backdrop to what Arians called the best practice of camp. “It should be with 20-some thousand people,” Arians said. “It should get the juice flowing. Look forward to what it will be with nobody in there. It’s got to be the same kind.”

 

 


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Keim isn’t worried about Coop

Posted by Darren Urban on August 4, 2014 – 9:25 am

During his weekly radio spot on Arizona Sports 98.7 with Doug and Wolf, General Manager Steve Keim said he really wasn’t worried about left guard Jonathan Cooper, even though Bruce Arians had said he was disappointed in how the 2013 first-round pick had played up until this point. Keim noted Cooper’s “pretty significant injury” and said it’s just a matter of Cooper getting through his rust. The nature of the broken leg doesn’t help either.

“When you are in a serious car accident, when you get behind the wheel the next several times there is going to be some concern and a mental hurdle to get over,” Keim said. “But the more you drive your car, the more comfortable you’ll feel.”

It does not help that Cooper is battling Calais Campbell, whom the Cardinals see as a Pro Bowl type and who Keim said continues to get better. Cooper, Keim believes, will be fine. “When you think about where he was at this time last year, he walked through baggage claim and he was our best offensive lineman,” Keim said, “so our expectations are a little higher than most.”

Other Keim obersevations:

– He thought Kevin Minter’s showing Saturday, especially in the live goal line drill, was an example of why Minter’s game will help the Cards so much against the run.

– He likes what he has seen in the growth from running back Andre Ellington and Michael Floyd and is intrigued by the battle for fifth receiver between Jaron Brown and Walt Powell.

– Keim liked how Bobby Massie has looked in practice. The comments around Massie are 180 degrees from what decision-makers were saying about him a year ago.

– He’s excited how physical rookie safety Deone Bucannon has been once the pads went on. “My man looks like he’s possessed out there, to the point where Bruce has had to pull him asisde and remind him he can’t hurt our own players,” Keim said.

– On a side note, John McClain, the Texans beat writer and the Godfather of media out in Houston, tweeted today that starters like Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Jadaveon Clowney are not expected to play at University of Phoenix Stadium Saturday in the preseason opener against the Cardinals.


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Now, it’s time for training camp

Posted by Darren Urban on July 24, 2014 – 2:09 pm

Optimism reigns every year when a team’s season begins and at no time does that optimism echo more than the day when training camp begins. That day, with all due respect to QB School is Friday. That’s when the Cardinals move into the hotel next to the stadium, when they take their conditioning test and when they get the speech from coach Bruce Arians about the goals for the season. They are the same goals every season — eventually ending with a title, of course — but they must be repeated all the same.

There will be ups and downs. Some players will have a bad stretch. Somebody will get hurt, and you just hope it isn’t a season-ender. Some new players might now work out. It’s how a team deals with these events that determines the course of the final won-loss record.

I think the Cardinals have a chance to be as good or better than last year. I think their defense might need some adjustments with the losses of the inside linebackers, but I think Todd Bowles can make something work. I think, assuming health, the offense will be better. I don’t think Carson Palmer is going to morph into Peyton or even Kurt Warner, but I think he will benefit by an upgraded offensive line. How this all plays out, ultimately, with a won-loss record depends on a lot of moving parts, not all of which are under the Cardinals’ control. But they have a chance to be good, and over the years, that hasn’t always been the case.

Here’s your link for all the training camp info, by the way, and click here for all the stories and videos of our coverage.


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Calais Campbell appears on ESPN’s First Take on Thursday

Posted by since1898 on July 10, 2014 – 9:29 am

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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 26, 2014 – 12:15 pm

As we come to the end of June (and the beginning of a little time off), it’s time for my annual pre-vacation pair of posts – the ones in which I take a stab at who will be in the starting lineup on opening day, which in this case will be Monday night against the Chargers. Some picks are obvious. Some are not. We’ll defense today, offense tomorrow. And then we’ll wait to see what training camp brings.

(For the offense, click here.)

DE – Darnell Dockett. There are a lot of questions, given Dockett’s age and 2015 salary, about what his situation will be next season. But this season, Dockett will be right where he always is – in the starting lineup. The Cards do like to rotate on the line. It’s necessary for good defenses to stay effective. And rookies Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson will get some time.

NT – Dan Williams. It’s a big year for Williams, who goes into the last year of his contract. He might have been pushed by Alameda Ta’amu, but Ta’amu is coming off knee surgery. Ta’amu will return early in the season, and the one-two combination will help. It has to start with Williams, though.

DE – Calais Campbell. He’s deserved Pro Bowl consideration the last couple of years, even if he hasn’t gotten it. When the Cardinals’ braintrust say they hope Martin turns into another Campbell, that says something.

ROLB – John Abraham. Abraham turned into a real find last year. He was supposed to be a part-time pass rusher and proved to be much more. He’s ahead of Sam Acho these days, but at some point, Acho (who’s in the last year of his contract) or someone has to step forward to provide a future.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He was going to be a starter as soon as Karlos Dansby left. Now, with Daryl Washington absent, there is a lot on the second-year man.

ILB – Larry Foote. There is a chance Lorenzo Alexander could win this job, but I think Alexander will end up filling multiple depth roles and Foote will get the starts. His signing has proved to be fortuitous given Washington’s situation.  What will be interesting to watch will be where someone like Kenny Demens fits in – with Washington out, there’s an opportunity for someone.

LOLB – Matt Shaughnessy. The Cardinals had the best run defense in the NFL last season in large part because Shaughnessy was so solid. It’s what you’d expect when you have a former defensive end playing outside in the 3-4. The Cardinals are hoping Alex Okafor develops down the road, but his inexperience leaves him a question mark for now.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Forget the criticisms (yes, he needs to get better, like everyone) and forget the chatter of who is the best, which is really meaningless anyway. He’s an anchor, and he’ll be an anchor for a long time.

CB – Antonio Cromartie. He looked healthy in the offseason and that’s a good sign. If he can regain the consistent level of play he’s had in the past, the Cardinals will be in great shape for their coverage.

FS – Rashad Johnson. With Tyrann Mathieu on the mend, Johnson is the natural choice. He’s a vet who won’t make mistakes. Tony Jefferson has been playing strong safety in offseason work, but Jefferson should be in the mix when dime packages are used.

SS – Deone Bucannon. The aforementioned Jefferson was running first unit in the offseason but the Cardinals are going to play their first-round pick if he shows anything in camp. I expect that to happen and Bucannon will get his shot as the season begins.

Tomorrow, we’ll have the offense.

 DefenseWorthBlog


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Dockett, Stinson and the circle of NFL life

Posted by Darren Urban on May 19, 2014 – 10:27 am

At some point, Darnell Dockett’s time with the Cardinals is going to come to an end. I’m sure he is hoping we are still a few years away from that, but with a 2015 salary of $6.5 million and the fact he will be 34 by that point, we’ll see how that impacts the decision-making by that point from the front office. Dockett is not unaware of such discussion or possibilities. Regardless, in that context, the veteran tweeted this out today:

Stinson, of course, is the fifth-round draft pick out of Alabama. And yes, it feels like Stinson (below) was drafted to give the Cards not only depth now on the line but a line of succession post-Dockett. It is important that, given those realities, Dockett is willing to help. It is not unlike the words spoken by Calais Campbell last week to me about helping out another draft pick, Kareem Martin. (Logan Thomas praised the quarterbacks for the same help.)

Campbell’s situation is a little different than Dockett’s right now, but the idea is the same — veterans willing to work with the younger players at the same time roster spots are difficult to keep. Dockett remains frustrated to this day that the veteran defensive linemen on the Cardinals when he arrived as a rookie in 2004 did not want to mentor him the same way. It isn’t always easy — remember, Denny Green installed Dockett, a third-round pick, as a starter from the day he was drafted. That tends to foster hard feelings. But if Dockett is serious about giving Stinson aid, it’s a big benefit for the team and continues to show exactly what the Cards have built within the locker room.

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Darnell Dockett and the defensive line race go karts

Posted by since1898 on May 15, 2014 – 8:35 am

BACK TO #since1898


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