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Defensive opportunity, Friday before the Colts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 15, 2017 – 4:21 pm

So it was a week about the Cardinals’ offense and the struggles last week and the injuries they already have endured just one game into the season. This is a defense that is healthy – save for the nearing-a-return-but-not-yet Deone Bucannon – and about to face a Colts’ offense Sunday that scored only nine points in Los Angeles last week, has a quarterback crisis and a decimated offensive line.

It’s the kind of offense a defense can get after pretty hard, especially one like the Cardinals, which may be asked to shoulder a bigger load going forward.

“You’d be crazy if you thought like that,” linebacker Markus Golden said. “This is the NFL, man. That’s the real part about it. If you think like that, I don’t even want you on my team. That’s how I feel about it.

“It ain’t like we’re a super-team. We’re like them. We lost last week and we’re trying to get back on the winning side.”

The Cardinals get it. They get the position they are in, what they face after injuries. Anyone concerned about a trap game – which to me can’t be, no matter how rough the Colts looked, because of where the Cards are – shouldn’t be.

“We understand it’s the NFL,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “The Rams’ defense is tough on everybody. We don’t really look at that. If you look at it that way you’ll probably lose some respect for those guys (on the Colts).”

This was always going to be a big game. Bruce Arians back in Indy and all that. It was supposed to be Andrew Luck vs. Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, a clash of two playoff hopefuls. The Colts are anything but, thanks in large part to Luck’s injury. The Cards want to make sure their hopes aren’t dashed so soon themselves.

— Players like Golden and Mathieu were all saying Jacoby Brissett would be the QB they face, which was what had been reported by multiple outlets. Colts coach Chuck Pagano would not name a starter Friday, however, and Bruce Arians took his friend at his word.

“We’ll see who steps into that huddle,” Arians said. “Chuck hasn’t said s*** yet.”

— Given all the offensive shuffling, it’s almost lost that Robert Nkemdiche will be getting a chance to play. He’ll have a chance to go against undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond, who is playing center with Ryan Kelly injured. If Nkemdiche can show a little of what he showed in the preseason, that’d be a nice start. Given everything he’s been through, he needs a good game in this situation.

— Not much more to say about Palmer this week. The injuries around him do not help. This is why you sign an Alex Boone, to fill in for Iupati. You hope John Wetzel plays better. Offensive line play across the league is not been great. The Cards are not alone. But they have to make it a little better for Palmer, and Palmer has to be a lot better.

— The blocking also has to be better for the running game, which didn’t produce much even before Johnson got hurt. Andre Ellington/Kerwynn Williams was the 2014 running tandem once Jonathan Dwyer was released, so it’s not unfamiliar. The Cards leaned on the defense that season a lot (Palmer only played six games because of injuries) but you need some production on the ground. Where Chris Johnson fits in — especially after Arians said Elijhaa Penny will have an offensive role — is anyone’s guess.

— We will see how much of a role Chad Williams actually has on offense with Smoke out. Still, the pass catching will probably come down more to Fitz, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson, with Andre Ellington out of the backfield. Nelson actually has eight touchdowns in his last 10 games (Thanks for the stat, Whiz!) He can’t be dropping bombs like he did last week, but Nelson has gotten better with Carson Palmer and as a deep threat, the Cards need him. Badly.

— Speaking of potential pass catchers, curious to see if Ifeanyi Momah can be a factor. Every time he plays in the preseason, he seems to have a few receptions. Now, with Jermaine Gresham missing practice all week, he’s got a chance to be involved. We talk “Next Man Up,” but the next men up understand more people fret about those injured than are comforted by who is stepping in.

“It almost can be a chip on the shoulder sometimes, but honestly, I just try to do the best I can every day,” Momah said. “It was a good experience for me, first game of the preseason, starters didn’t play and I got to play into the second half. From that game, I was able to build off that, someone who can fill in.”

Ring of Honor member Roy Green is being inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame tonight.

— Speaking of former Cardinals, this came out last week, but if you have not seen it, it is a well-produced mini-documentary into the free-agent decision of Calais Campbell when he left the Cards in the spring. It’s worth a watch.

— I’ll leave you with this: Defensive coordinator James Bettcher grew up in a small town (Lakeville) in Indiana, and told a story this week about the first time he went to an NFL game when he was a kid.

“I remember Pops took me to my first Colts game, one of my best friends and his dad,” Bettcher said. “It was in the RCA Dome and like I said, from a small town of extremely hardworking people and to be able to go to a game like that was something special. Then you see the size of the stadium and you think, ‘Wow, how could I ever be down on the sideline?’

“To think now how fortunate I am to be a coach in the National Football League. It means something to me to work with the players I work with here and how fortunate I am to be a Cardinal. Maybe that’s what I get out of (this trip). To reflect back.”

See you in Indy.


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After practice: Hurting John Brown “can’t rush it”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 5:32 pm

For the first time in a couple of weeks, John Brown worked in 11-on-11 situations in practice Tuesday. He didn’t run every rep he normally would, because he is, by his own admission after practice, not healed from his quad injury. It was a sullen Smoke who talked about his situation. He clearly knows his absence is felt, and he realizes many want him back on the field. But the wideout made it plain he wasn’t going to rush the process.

“I understand the situation at receiver but I’m just going to come back when I’m ready,” Brown said.

Brown knows his injury history. He’s also key to this offense. If he can get healthy in another week or two, that’s probably good enough. He needs to be healthy when the games count.

“I can’t rush it,” Brown added. “My body is different than others. They expect me to come back fast, but I can’t.”

All the receivers heard Bruce Arians’ message from the day before. Larry Fitzgerald was supposed to have a rest day Tuesday. He was out there practicing. On one touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hubert — who didn’t catch the ball as much as he was forced to catch the ball, barely turning around before a Trevor Knight laser lodged in his stomach — Fitzgerald bellowed “We’ve got 12 who can play! We’ve got 12 who can play in the league!”

— It wasn’t a perfect day for on-notice receivers. Rookie Chad Williams got two yards behind a defender and QB Blaine Gabbert dropped in a gorgeous 39-yard bomb perfectly, only to have the ball go through Williams’ arms. But the dropsies went both ways. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, safety Harlan Miller and linebacker Cap Capi all dropped sure interceptions. Capi would easily have had a pick-6 on a throw to the flat.

— Robert Nkemdiche was getting reps in one-on-ones against offensive linemen every time through a unit — first-string, second-string, third-string. The last time through he exploded into and through the chest of rookie guard Dorian Johnson. Clearly, Nkemdiche still needs to work on proper technique. But if he doesn’t get it, it won’t be for lack of coaching.

— DT Frostee Rucker was also supposed to have an off day but like Fitz, he practiced. Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson and Karlos Dansby sat. G Mike Iupati stopped taking reps midway through practice — not sure if it was injury-related, but Cole Toner worked with the first unit — and linebacker Josh Bynes also left practice early. Linebacker Markus Golden (ankle) missed a second straight practice.

— Finally, if there was any question about how hard it is to cover running back David Johnson on pass plays, it was painfully evident. Linebackers have no chance — Johnson twisted up Haason Reddick, Chandler Jones and Scooby Wright at different times. It’s not fair, really.


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A quiet Arians is a scary Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 12:20 pm

J.J. Nelson mentioned Monday that while Bruce Arians had made it known he was not happy with the wide receivers, he was “saying it in a nice way.”

Yeah, well, that’s not a good thing.

“I was very nice about it,” Arians said Tuesday, very even-keeled while speaking on the subject. “I said (GM) Steve (Keim) is upstairs right now looking at tape for more new (receivers).”

That was probably a B.A.-mic drop moment. “I don’t really give a s*** what they think,” Arians said. “They were told real quietly and that scared them.”

It reminded me of my parents — and probably many parents. I know I’ve done it with my kids. Getting yelled at isn’t good, but when the tone gets quiet and perhaps a little more deliberate, something not so good is going down.

“If I’m hollering, I’m coaching ’em,” Arians said. “When I’m not hollering, it’s not a good thing.”

— Three receivers (coincidence? Probably not) are attempting to return to practice full today: John Brown (quad), Chad Williams (shin splints) and Aaron Dobson (hamstring). Tackle D.J. Humphries (hamstring) is going to try individual drills today, and Arians expects him back to practice later this week and to be able to play Saturday.


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After practice: Looking at the receivers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2017 – 6:12 pm

Bruce Arians had just said earlier Thursday the wide receivers as a whole had to pick up their level of play. It was a little easier for the wideouts at practice because, with the team in shells, there wasn’t a lot of tight coverage (contact was relatively limited, especially downfield.) Rookie Krishawn Hogan stood out with a couple of nice early catches, but he couldn’t corral a couple others later on. It’ll be interesting to see how much certain guys play against the Raiders, especially given all the injuries. Chad Williams and John Brown are iffy, Aaron Dobson is sidelined, and there was another guy going down in practice.

— That guy was rookie wide receiver Carlton Agudosi, who suffered some kind of right leg/knee injury. I didn’t see what happened, but after one play Agudosi was down in the end zone. Larry Fitzgerald came over to see if he was OK, and eventually, he and Brittan Golden helped Agudosi up and served as crutches so Agudosi could hobble over to a cart, where he was driven to the locker room. Arians doesn’t talk again until after the game Saturday.

— Quarterback Carson Palmer was off of practice for a second straight day, interesting since Palmer will get the start Saturday. Arians didn’t mention at lunch Palmer would be sitting. Linebacker Karlos Dansby was also sitting out.

— Quarterback Drew Stanton had a beautiful deep ball early in practice, hitting J.J. Nelson well down the field.

— Assistant equipment manager Jeff Schwimmer made an outstanding one-handed grab of a Fitzgerald pass after one play. Fitz needs to get his passes down for his shorter receivers.

— C Daniel Munyer also limped to the locker room with a trainer at the end of practice.

— There was a nice TD pass from Trevor Knight to Golden at one point, but the pass only happened because Robert Nkemdiche wasn’t allowed to complete the sack he was inevitably going to get. The defense would have had quite a few sacks Thursday.

— Finally, a Knight bullet intended for Agudosi near the back of the end zone instead was picked off quite nicely at the goal line by leaping linebacker Josh Bynes.


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Nkemdiche rises to the ones “a lot now”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2017 – 2:01 pm

Robert Nkemdiche may not officially be a starter on the depth chart, but the way the Cardinals’ defensive line rotation is going to work, he’ll likely work as much as those on the field first. Coach Bruce Arians said he will likely dress six defensive linemen on game days this season, and it’ll be a rotation — probably moreso than when Pro Bowler Calais Campbell was there to eat up a lot of snaps. Nkemdiche, who has had a very good camp, is showing he should be near the front of the line.

“He’s playing with the ones a lot now,” Arians said Thursday.

Nkemdiche got a chance to take a rep against first-team guard Evan Boehm in one-on-ones Wednesday, and bested Boehm. Nkemdiche remains modest in how he talks about where he is as a player, but the head-down-full-speed approach has been working.

— Arians likes the improvement from all along the defensive line. One guy that seems to be an underrated lock to be in the rotation is Olsen Pierre, whom Arians continues to compliment.

— Two receivers, Chad Williams (shin splints) and John Brown (quad) are questionable to play Saturday. T D.J. Humphries (hamstring) is also a game-day decision, although Arians said if there is any question Saturday, he’ll sit.

— Arians said he’s looking for the wide receivers to get much better. “That’s the group that really needs to pick it up,” he said. Injuries have slowed the unit, but Arians had said Williams in particular had been disappointing before he was sidelined.

— Finally, a dose of Ironhead. Undrafted rookie safety Ironhead Gallon, besides having the best name on the team, had been impressing Arians. At least up until he hurt his knee in practice.

“He’s bright and tough,” Arians said. “He’s one-legged right now. He is finding a niche for himself.”

Arians said he actually coached the man Gallon is nicknamed after, one-time running back Ironhead Heyward. “It’s a lot smaller Ironhead,” Arians deadpanned.


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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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A car for Chad Williams’ mom

Posted by Darren Urban on July 29, 2017 – 9:41 am

One of the benefits of being a third-round draft pick in the NFL is being able to get a nice gift for your mom. Chad Williams, the wide receiver from Grambling State, had long known that his mom, Lisa Rowe, just wanted a car with air conditioning. Being from Louisiana, that can be kind of an important thing.

“My brother works, so my mom watches my niece a lot,” Williams said. “Man, my niece can’t be riding around in a hot car. She’s a year-and-a-half almost. She can’t be riding around in a hot car.”

Getting that car was “all I’ve ever thought about,” he said. So Williams, who signed his contract in mid-May, got his mother a 2016 Nissan Altima and when he gave it to her, “she cried like a baby.”

“My mom is a very thankful woman,” Williams said. “Great AC. No maintenance problems. A warranty on it. Heated seats. GPS. I mean, what else do you need? My mom is a very thankful woman. I had that in mind that she wouldn’t be the flashy type, like, ‘Why didn’t you get me a BMW?’ My mom’s a very thankful woman and I guess that’s the right car I picked for her.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be a transition period now that her car can cool Rowe down.

“She called me the other day, and she’s like, ‘Man, I can’t put my air conditioning over two because it freezes me out,’ ” Williams said. “I said, ‘You wanted some air conditioning so you got it.’ ”


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Thoughts on the first depth chart

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2017 – 3:33 pm

The first depth chart is here, and mostly that means, dang, we are about to have a football game (and one week from Thursday, we will). This comes with all the same normal disclaimers — including the note that it was prepared by the media relations staff. Also good to note that rookies are always low when this first comes out, and indeed, in practice Budda Baker and Chad Williams, for instance, are running behind a handful of other guys. But they will be on the team, barring something unforeseen.

In fact, there aren’t any real surprises. Chris Johnson and Kerwynn Williams are listed as “co” No. 2 running backs, and that’s a good sign for Williams (although I expect CJ2K to have the job when it’s all said and done.) Olsen Pierre is ahead of Xavier Williams on the defensive line. The injuries of Elie Bouka and Jumel Rolle look like they’ve hurt their depth chart standing. And even though Harlan Miller is listed among the safeties, he’s done most of his work thus far at cornerback.


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With Chad Williams, Fitz invokes the A-word

Posted by Darren Urban on May 31, 2017 – 9:12 am

As Larry Fitzgerald spoke on a variety of topics Tuesday, rookie third-round wide receiver Chad Williams came up. And Fitz delivered the eyebrow-raising comparison — kind of.

“He reminds me of Anquan Boldin, in terms of the strength of his hands,” Fitzgerald said. “Once it touches his hands, it just doesn’t move. He’s got unbelievably strong hands.”

Now, invoking the name of Anquan is pretty high praise around these parts. It’s never taken lightly, even if Fitz narrowed it to Williams’ hands. Boldin and Williams aren’t built the same, Boldin being thicker than Williams, but certainly, this franchise would take Williams being anywhere close to Boldin. After all, Boldin has carved out a marvelous NFL career, and it’s impossible to forget his best seasons came in an Arizona uniform.

(Before we go any further, Boldin has said he wants to play in 2017. But it won’t be with the Cardinals, even though many fans would love a reunion. As I have mentioned before. Boldin and Fitzgerald play essentially the same position at this point in their careers. Having them both on the roster makes little sense.)

It’s not the first time Fitzgerald has brought up a Boldin comparison with a young Cardinals wideout. A couple of times Fitzgerald made the Anquan-Michael Floyd comparison, in terms of those players playing “angry” — in a good way. Chad Williams has a long, long way to go to prove himself anywhere Anquan-worthy, especially since his opportunities are going to be much more limited as a rookie that Boldin had in 2003. (No one is forgetting 10-217-2 to start his career.)

Q hands or not, though, Fitzgerald says he’s bullish on the rookie Williams.

“(Chad) has got deceptive speed, when he’s running with guys, you see him and you’re like, ‘He’s really moving,’ ” Fitzgerald said. “He’s making his plays. … He’s going  to be a great help to us. He’s a very outgoing young man, has a high football IQ, which always helps.”


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No QB yet — and perhaps none at all

Posted by Darren Urban on April 28, 2017 – 9:57 pm

The Cardinals made a big trade to move up in the second round Friday. It gave everyone pause. Quarterback? Deshone Kizer was on the board. But then came safety Budda Baker. No QB there. In the third round, the Cardinals traded down, and still, no QB. Now there is a question of whether there will be one in this draft.

“Those guys aren’t always out there,” coach Bruce Arians said. What about the quarterbacks left on the board? “There are still a couple of quality arms out there,” Arians acknowledged. “Whether they are first-string arms or second-string arms is yet to be seen.”

It’s less than a ringing endorsement for a team looking for a quarterback of the future. But again, this class always was seen with warts, and the last thing the Cardinals have any desire to do is make a pick just because they feel they have to.

“Again, would you love to find one? Absolutely,” GM Steve Keim said. “But as I said, you can’t force a pick and you can’t leave better players on the board, and that would have done if we didn’t take the approach we did. It would be a disservice to the organization and everyone who works here if we were to press something that was out of the norm or to panic.”

The Cards pick eighth in the fourth round Saturday. They have five picks — one in the fourth, two each in the fifth and seventh. We will see if one is a QB.

— The Cardinals really, really wanted Budda Baker. And in the third round, they liked Chad Williams a lot. So it worked out for Keim to make the initial trade, however expensive as it might have seemed, to snare Baker. Because Williams was one of those players that the Cardinals liked probably more than most, they were able to drop down 21 spots in the third, still get him and get back a fourth-round pick.

— Arians believes with the addition of Baker, the Cardinals have one of the most dynamic secondaries in the league. He didn’t rule out drafting a cornerback Saturday — I would be a little surprised if they didn’t — but the addition of Baker gives the Cards flexibility even if there isn’t a ready-to-be-on-an-island corner across from Patrick Peterson.

 


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