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Signs the Cards are ready to wrap

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2013 – 6:12 pm

The Cardinals ran their conditioning test back on July 25. With training camp ending later this week, there might have been a couple of signs the players are ready to wrap up here at University of Phoenix Stadium. In the morning locker room session, I asked Darnell Dockett if he was ready for camp to end. “I’ve been wanting camp over,” Dockett said. “I’ve wanted camp over from the second day. I just want to lay in my own bed. I have no problem with the two-a-day schedule. That’s football. It’s living in the hotel. I just don’t like that.”

Then, at the beginning of practice, there was a sight unseen since camp began — a true scrap. In a one-on-one special teams drill, wide receiver Charles Hawkins was a gunner and cornerback Bryan McCann was jammer, and McCann knocked Hawkins down with a powerful jam down the field. Hawkins took exception, to the points swings were taken and the two had to be separated.

“Towards the end of camp, tempers are flaring, people’s jobs are on the line, emotions run high,” McCann said. “You always can (feel the urgency) this time of camp. It’s just part of football.”

— The addition of Mike Thomas at receiver isn’t a surprise. The Cards were going to be looking at receivers. The inexperience is obvious, and when there is a chance to grab a guy with experience, you take it. It’s not like it’s a risk. One-year deal, and I’d guess the Cards can easily release him in two weeks if he doesn’t make sense. But he’s proven himself in this league. And Bruce Arians has been middle-of-the-road enough on his young receiver evaluations that bringing in one isn’t a shock.

— At the same time, there should be no shock when this team makes moves or adds guys even at positions you might think are set. Steve Keim and Co. have made crystal clear they will bring in guys who they think will help. Could that cost someone surprising a job? Sure. That’s the NFL. There are still two open roster spots. Things can happen.

— The injury list shrinks. TE Jeff King (knee), RB Ryan Williams (knee), WR Andre Roberts (ankle), WR Jarrett Dillard (concussion), T Joe Caprioglio (foot). LB Dan Giordano (toe) remains on the PUP list.


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Cowboys aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 17, 2013 – 10:42 pm

Perhaps it’s a version of that age-old question: If a potential fourth receiver dresses in a different locker room, does he make a sound the team?KerryTayBLOG

Kerry Taylor spent all of last season on the Cards’ practice squad. While there have been other “unknowns” at receiver getting attention in training camp, it’s Taylor who is fourth on the depth chart and it’s Taylor who had the impressive game with four catches for 85 yards. Taylor said all the right things afterward, about continuing to work hard, but as he already mentioned, he’s noticed he’s been under the radar. But that’s in keeping with his locker room spot, which right now is in the secondary rookie room away from the main locker room.

“Larry (Fitzgerald) gives me some heat about that from time to time,” Taylor said. “ ‘What are you doing back there?’ They put me where they put me.”

Taylor did say the subjects talked about are totally different in the two locker rooms. “Up here there is grown conversation,” Taylor said. “Whereas back there, it’s like high school, with the jokes they make. It’s two totally different worlds. But it’s fun. I enjoy being back there with those guys.”

I’d guess Taylor would enjoy it even more moving back into the main room after final cuts. If he keeps making plays like he did Saturday – although he lamented only getting a couple fingers on what could have been a touchdown catch – the locker room space won’t be an issue.

— Coach Bruce Arians said there were no significant injuries. Knock on wood, the Cards have managed to escape that problem thus far in camp.

— Arians doesn’t like the “explosive plays” the Cards’ defense gave up, and that’s fair. But remember Arians said he didn’t give a “crap” about where his defense was ranked because of yardage. He doesn’t want to give up points and wanted turnovers. Well, after two games, the Cards have forced more turnovers (8) than given up points (7).

— Tony Jefferson remains a longshot to make the roster. But the practice squad may be possible. The guy makes two interceptions against the Cowboys and he made a couple in practice this week too. He also was credited with a pair of tackles for loss and a pair of passes defended.

— Rashard Mendenhall looked pretty good (32 yards on seven carries) and if he stays healthy, the Cards look like they will be OK at running back.

— Mendenhall would have had a nice fourth-down reception for a first too – if Carson Palmer hadn’t thrown a bad pass. Palmer took responsibility for the bad throw and Arians was clearly frustrated, after the perfect play call got Mendenhall wide open. Even the last two incompletions of Palmer – one to Fitz, one to Roberts – looked like they would be open, if the QB and WR had just been on the same page, instead of one zigging when the other thought about zagging.

— Rookie running back Andre Ellington made a couple of nice runs himself, including a good kickoff return. It was against the deep backups, but still, a nice debut.

— Tyrann Mathieu was credited with a team-high seven tackles, not a shock because he played more than any defender, I’d guess. One play didn’t work though – Mathieu tried to anticipate an interception, missed the ball, and Dwayne Harris took a short pass and got 16 yards out of it. “I said, ‘Hey, if you’re going to go for the pick, you better just make the tackle.’ ” Arians said, noting Mathieu had a similar error in practice this past week.

— Palmer was protected pretty well again, with only one real pressure and no sacks.

— Speaking of the offensive line, Nate Potter and Bobby Massie basically played the rest of the game after starters Levi Brown and Eric Winston left. Reps are what it’s about (and it’s hard to think there is any other tackle on the roster who is being considered.)

— Charles Hawkins was drilled pretty good fielding a punt late in the game. “Charles Hawkins will learn how to fair catch in the right instances,” Arians quipped. “It only takes one hit to learn how to fair catch, especially when you are told to fair catch before you go out there.”

— Arians did say he liked how his special teams played, and from Justin Bethel to Lorenzo Alexander to Dave Zastudil to Ellington and even Jay Feely with his 53-yard field goal (although Arians wasn’t happy with a 30-yard miss), special teams did shine.


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Packers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2013 – 10:38 pm

The way Carson Palmer threw the ball Friday night was good. So was the way backup Drew Stanton did, for that matter. But what may have been the most promising of all for the Cardinals was the way the pass protection held up.

“There were some great pockets to throw in,” Palmer said.

This all has the usual caveats. It was the preseason. The Packers weren’t coming with a complex package. Yet that didn’t help a ton in the preseason last year when the Cards struggled. I thought the first unit (Brown-Cooper-Sendlein-Fanaika-Winston) did very well. The Cards are smart too. On a 17-yard Palmer-to-Fitz pass from their own 1 early in the game, Michael Floyd was in – and then stayed in the backfield to help with protection. Palmer was clean.

Palmer wasn’t touched in his short stint. Stanton was a couple of times (his lone sack was of the coverage variety) but he also Russell-Wilsoned himself out of trouble a couple of times. Everything tonight comes with the “It’s early in the preseason” sticker attached. But a team with consistent pass protection? That’s something to embrace.

— The running game wasn’t as effective. That will be something that needs improvement. But Bruce Arians was just thankful the Cards got through with just two healthy running backs. Rashard Mendenhall didn’t play, and Andre Ellington sat too. Stepfan Taylor and Alfonso Smith was all the Cards had.

— The offense is going to get the spotlight. That’s natural after the season the unit had last year. But the defense, under scrutiny itself with the

Horton-to-Todd Bowles coordinator change, played well. Two turnovers led to two touchdowns, which is how Bowles wants it to go. And preseason or not, the Packers didn’t score, which is the best you can do.

“It’s a good starting point for us,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “I’m sure we didn’t play nearly as good as we could have, I’m sure there was a lot of mistakes on film. That’s football and the preseason. It does show us how good we can be.”

— You don’t want to go overboard on any player in the preseason. And a rookie has a long way to go. But what’s the No. 1 thing you want to see out of a player – especially a rookie? You want to see them , if they were showing you good things in practice, to show those things in a game. Tyrann Mathieu did that.

His stat line was gaudy: Two tackles, one for loss, a sack, a quarterback hit, a pass breakup, a pass breakup, two special teams and a 26-yard punt return. He also thought he had a chance at an interception and didn’t look thrilled Packers receiver Myles White grabbed him to mess with that possibility. You don’t want to go overboard, but a very, very impressive debut.

— Patrick Peterson tweeted about his protégé: “Proud of my baby boy @Mathieu_Era doing great things in his first @NFL game. Can’t wait till Sept. 8

— Not to be outdone, though, Peterson made sure to get his own interception in his brief stint, leading to the Cards’ first TD.

— Arians said he gave the receiving corps a C grade. He poked fun at Andre Roberts a little for not catching the first bomb from Palmer (to be fair, it also hit off the DB) but Roberts atoned with his TD. Jaron Brown and Charles Hawkins did well, I thought, although Brown had a drop he can’t make and Hawkins fumbled the ball on a long reception (he got it back but the fumble probably cost him a chance at a bigger play.)

— John Abraham didn’t play much at all, but he managed a strip-sack of Graham Harrell in his brief time in the game. You sign a guy to rush the passer and you get that out of the gate.  “Doing that just helps the team out and helps them see that I have a little something left,” Abraham said.

— The only injury reported by Arians was a hip pointer for rookie tight end D.C. Jefferson, who twice couldn’t hang on to passes he should have – including one in the end zone. Arians isn’t going to let him forget about that. He told the media about the hip pointer, and then added “that’s what happens when you drop big touchdowns.”

— Arians was irritated at the offensive issues in terms of substituting and getting lined up, something that really affected the younger players. That will have to be cleaned up. Timeouts were burned too often.

There’s probably more I could say, but it’s late, there’s a long plane ride ahead and I’ll have time to hit on more over the next few days. As Palmer said, “it’s a small step.”


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Making plays, and not, in practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2013 – 5:15 pm

Nothing super exciting today, other than a chance to talk to Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter on the Cardinals Daily Report (below). But here are some notes and observations:

— Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Tyrann Mathieu forced a fumble, punching a ball lose after a catch by tight end Jeff King. It’s going to be very interesting to see him in games because over the last week or so, Mathieu has been a playmaking machine.

— We’ve mentioned Jaron Brown, Charles Hawkins and Robert Gill as receiving options, and after the depth chart came out it was clear Kerry Taylor had made inroads as the No. 4 receiver. Someone who hasn’t been mentioned (and I will admit I didn’t think we would be) is recent rookie signee Robby Toma out of Notre Dame. He’s not big, he’s not real fast. But it’s tough not to notice him catching almost every pass thrown to him.

— Veteran safety Yeremiah Bell made a very impressive diving interception — he fully laid out to grab it — against Ryan Lindley. Who says being 35 has to hinder athletic plays?

— (By the way, both the Bell pick and the Mathieu play are caught in today’s highlight package you can see here.)

— Bell said he hadn’t expected QB Ryan Lindley to throw the pass. It’s been a rough stretch for Lindley, and now Arians is talking about keeping only two QBs. It’ll be very interesting to see how Lindley does in preseason games.

— Drew Stanton did hit Andre Roberts with a long touchdown pass at one point.

— RB Andre Ellington left practice early on Tuesday with what looked like some sort of neck issue. It didn’t look serious (he walked off the field fine) but he did not return.

— Those sitting included DT Ricky Lumpkin (ankle), RB Ryan Williams (knee), LB Karlos Dansby (hamstring), G Daryn Colledge (leg), WR Robert Gill (hamstring), WR Kerry Taylor (hamstring), TE Kory Sperry (ankle), CB Jamell Fleming (hamstring), LB Alex Okafor (ankle), DT Dan Williams (ankle) and LB Kenny Demens (not sure on his injury).

— Just when Arians was asked about a lack of scuffles in camp, there was a scuffle. Guard Scott Wedige and defensive end Ronald Talley got into it a little bit after one play, but teammates quickly broke it up. Perhaps they were all warning the pair about Arians’ rule against camp fights.

— Officially John Abraham is listed third on the depth chart at linebacker. But as proof as why the depth chart is dangerous, Abraham — as he has been since he showed up — is running first unit nickel as the right side pass rusher. Matt Shaughnessy is on the left, with Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell in the middle. The linebackers are Reggie Walker (with Dansby out) and Jasper Brinkley. The corners are Patrick Peterson and Antoine Cason on the outside, with Jerraud Powers as nickel slot. Bell and Rashad Johnson are the safeties.

— Random note: Prior to Tuesday’s roster moves (which are unlikely to impact the salary cap anyway), the Cardinals had $5.76 million in salary cap space.


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Another Tyrann pick and practice notes

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2013 – 5:23 pm

The Cardinals were running deep red-zone offense — passing situations around and inside the 10 — at one point in Monday’s practice when safety Tyrann Matheiu got a hand up to deflect a pass near the goal line, hitting it straight up in the air and tipping it to himself for an interception. I know this has been said before, but the kid just is always in the mix when the ball is around. Could an opponent burn him for his aggressiveness? Maybe. But if he’s on the field, he’s going to create his share of turnovers. It’s hard to see otherwise.

Other tidbits from the afternoon:

— RB Ryan Williams, dealing with the knee irritation that has been keeping him out of practice, basically ruled himself out of the Green Bay game Friday. It’s disappointing to him on multiple levels, since it was a preseason game in Green Bay in 2011 when he tore his patella tendon and suffered the first of a few NFL injuries. “They started this whole thing, man,” Williams said. “I was really hoping to get over this hump in the sense of playing on that field where it all started, but you know, I’m not able to. So I can’t think too much about it. It is what it is. I’ll be there for the Cowboys, though.”

— Ever since Bruce Arians mentioned that his defense wasn’t getting its collective hands on the ball enough, they have. LB Daryl Washington, CB Justin Bethel and CB Javier Arenas also made picks. (That isn’t to say there weren’t a couple of nice pass hookups too. Charles Hawkins had a couple of downfield plays I recall.)

— G Daryn Colledge isn’t back at practice, but he was able to move around well enough to do the some of the snapping for the 7-on-7 drills. He doesn’t look too far away from returning.

— The tight end group was helped when both Jeff King and Alex Gottlieb returned to work. WR Kerry Taylor is out with some sort of leg/hamstring injury.

— DT Ricky Lumpkin went down after a play and took a few moments to get up. They brought the cart out but Lumpkin later was able to get off the field himself, with a limp, with the aid of head athletic trainer Tom Reed. Lumpkin was trying to walk it off on the sideline. It’s been a tough run for the defensive line and injuries over the past week or so.


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Peterson and finding a fourth receiver

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2013 – 10:18 am

It’s been one of the things — if not the thing — that has stuck out in training camp thus far: Patrick Peterson’s work on the offensive side of the ball. There’s no question it’s a development unto itself, germinating from, as Bruce Arians pointed out, the idea of “Hmm, that’s a lot of weapon sitting next to me.” That makes sense. No one who has seen Peterson with the ball would dispute the idea he can make good things happen.

On a lesser note, it would be interesting to see if it would have hit as hard if the Cardinals had a clear-cut wideout beyond Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd.

The Cards have been intrigued with the flashes shown by rookies Jaron Brown and Charles Hawkins and (when he hasn’t been hurt) Robert Gill, among others. But the word, from Arians and others, is that those guys need to find more consistency in their play. We still have to see how any of them look in game situations too. I’ve been watching this team long enough to have seen plenty of receivers flash in camp and more or less disappear in games. The young guys will definitely get their chance to show what they have. I don’t expect any of the top three guys to play a ton, especially in the preseason opener.

If someone emerges, perfect. But it’s easy to see them scouring cuts across the league to see if there is a receiver (and a tight end for that matter) who is worth picking up. I fully expect at least one roster move or two after that final cut to 53. These guys have a chance to cut that off with their play, and Arians has already made clear to them in his own meetings what the back half of this roster may face.

“The hardest thing in this business is you cut to 53 and someone went home celebrating and someone (else) came across the waiver wire that we feel like was better,” Arians said. “(Then) we had to release someone after he celebrated making the team. That’s the hardest thing for a coach because they went from the ultimate high to the ultimate low.

“Make me not want anybody on the waiver wire.”

JBrownBlogUSE

 


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Good news on Williams and DL tap outs

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2013 – 12:27 pm

Bruce Arians likes the depth he’s built in the defensive line, and it’s necessary. “We want to be able to tap out and play fast,” Arians said, and staying fresh is important to production. Can guys balk at coming out? Maybe. But “the guy knows when to come out,” Arians said. “Some guys won’t come out. Other guys like to play fresh.”

Then sometimes there is the issue Arians had last season with the Colts. “I had a problem last year in Indy,” he said. “(Pro Bowlers Robert) Mathis and (Dwight) Freeney tapped out in the same time, I was , ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can’t both come out. I just learned the two guys’ names behind you. One has to stay in there.’ ”

— It turned out RB Ryan Williams did not have the precautionary second opinion he planned on yesterday. Arians said he was feeling better and decided just to rehab at the stadium. He will sit out today, but with the off day tomorrow, Williams is hoping to return to practice Thursday.

— The new injuries are TE Kory Sperry (ankle) and CB Jamell Fleming (hamstring). That’s a tough one for Fleming, who is battling in a very competitive secondary. Sperry, way under the radar after signing late last year, is playing well enough that Arians is bummed out he is out. “I’m a little ticked because Kory is having a heck of a camp.” Sperry can play in the backfield too, which is key.

— TE Jeff King is sitting because of fluid on the knee, which after offseason surgery isn’t surprising. Arians said the Cards just want to be cautious.

— G Daryn Colledge is still out. Arians said it is an unknown with the nerve issue. He could be back Thursday, he could be out another week. No way to know.

— Arians said he wants to play David Carter at nose tackle, not end.

— That battle for fourth and fifth receiver is open. LaRon Byrd is dealing with the concussion. But it should be noted that when Arians was asked about undrafted guys who have caught his eye, he said Jaron Brown and Charles Hawkins  have “done really well. Really well.” Something to keep in mind.

— And here are some highlights from yesterday:


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Cards go camping in Minnesota

Posted by Darren Urban on July 10, 2013 – 1:26 pm

Every year, Larry Fitzgerald holds about a month’s worth of work at home in Minnesota. There is a little bit of throwing and mostly hardcore conditioning and weightlifting, all designed to help in the “downtime” an NFL player has right before training camp. I was fortunate enough to take a trip up to visit last year (here is the story and the resulting video of that trip.) The time there is great for these guys. Hard work through noon or 1, and then everyone is usually invited daily back to Fitz’s house to hang out or go jet-skiing on the lake. I’d take that life this time of year. This year, both Fitz and new quarterback Carson Palmer talked a few times how they were going to hook up during the workouts, and Palmer, a man of his word, is indeed up in Minnesota right now.

Apparently, most of the throwers and catchers are, for that matter. Fitz will take anyone across the league who wants to come — last year, Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts and Seahawks running back Leon Washington were among the guys there when I was there — but it’s never bad when Cardinals come. This year, there are a ton of Cardinals there. Fitz put out the picture below earlier today on social media (thanks for letting me “borrow” it, Fitz). From left to right, starting in the back, it is Michael Rios, Jaron Brown, Dan Buckner (I hope, always tougher with the undrafted rookies), Tyler Shaw, QB Ryan Lindley, LaRon Byrd, Kerry Taylor, QB Carson Palmer, Michael Floyd and QB Drew Stanton. In the front, it’s Andre Roberts, Charles Hawkins, Fitz and Robert Gill. (Here is a story from a local TV station with a little video.)

It’s a huge turnout, and seems to bode well. Then again, if you are a QB and Palmer is going to be there, or you are a receiver and Fitz, Floyd and Roberts are going to be there, it’s tough to say no. Either way, I think of Bruce Arians saying when the Cards come back for camp there can’t be regression — that at worst the Cards have to come in where they left off after offseason work, and maybe even a little ahead.

It’s hard not to think that the QBs and receivers will accomplish that goal after working in Fitz’s backyard.

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That UDFA receiver …

Posted by Darren Urban on June 17, 2013 – 1:14 pm

The fact Bruce Arians mentioned undrafted rookie receiver Jaron Brown the other day (and Charles Hawkins, for that matter) may in the end mean nothing. Impressing in June is not the same thing as impressing in August, when, as Arians has brought up time and time again, the lights go on and players can change. But it was tough not to notice that Brown got a lot of work in multi-receiver sets, especially late in the offseason work when Michael Floyd was protecting a testy hamstring. With Ryan Swope absent with his head issues, the door is open for some unknown receivers to make a push for a roster spot.

(The fact Arians bluntly said LaRon Byrd wasn’t exactly lighting it up also creates some possibilities at the back end of the wideout depth chart.)

The Cardinals have had a recent history of finding some receivers from nowhere this time of year. This was the time when Steve Breaston first turned some heads in 2008, and while Breaston was a fifth-round draft pick in his second season, he was never thought of as a guy with that potential before that summer. There was Stephen Williams in 2010. And Byrd last year. This time, it was No. 13 — Brown — who seemed to be everywhere.

“There is always room to improve, come out and get better every day,” Brown said, who said he didn’t know anything about the Cards and their history of undrafted receivers. “I know I’m undrafted and a rookie and I’m trying to learn as much as I can.”

Brown isn’t the only young candidate. Arians mentioned Hawkins and Robert Gill (who as an arena veteran isn’t exactly a rookie, but falls into the same kind of category) as guys who have stood out. Those guys have some speed, which is a component Arians seeks in the receiving corps. Brown, by the way, ran a 4.4 himself at his pro day, so he’s not exactly slow. The caveat that always comes with the receivers who flash in the offseason? It’s easy to flash in shorts, knowing you won’t get hit going over the middle.

“I know how good they play soccer right now,” Arians said. “Football is a noise-level game and the noise-level scares some guys. Other guys love it. That’s what we’ve got to find.”

Brown has made a good impression. So far.

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Stretched or not, offseason program is over

Posted by Darren Urban on June 13, 2013 – 11:35 am

It had been noticeable, after six years of watching John Lott gather the players at the outset of every practice and listen to him bellow instructions for a stretch, that the Cardinals weren’t stretching before their workouts since Bruce Arians arrived. The reason was simple. Arians wants his guys stretching on their own and being ready to practice when practice starts.

“I know this,” Arians deadpanned. “If a guy starts chasing you with a gun, you’re not going to stretch.”

Point taken. Obviously, players need to get loose (not that it can be that hard in 105 degrees right now) but Arians’ major point is that they should be professional enough to do it on their own. In the meantime, the Cardinals ended their minicamp today after a brief walkthrough. They were out there for about 30 minutes doing light work before backup kicker Will Batson was given the chance to boot a 48-yard field goal. Good, and the veterans saw the end of their offseason work. Miss, and practice would go on. Batson hit it, to the celebration of all (although I am really curious to know if it would have continued with a miss. We’ll never know.)

So here are some notes, thoughts and observations after an offseason of work:

— The Cardinals are pretty healthy, to which Arians was happy. “You cross your fingers every day,” he said, but rehabbing guys like Levi Brown and O’Brien Schofield had immersed themselves back into all the work by the time it was over. There were some dings but nothing that should be an issue by the time camp starts. That doesn’t include, right now, the very much unknown situation of rookie wide receiver Ryan Swope. Arians already said he was hopeful Swope would be ready for camp. I don’t know if anyone can know for sure right now.

— Arians said his guys have to be in better shape. He emphasized that should come if the players keep working. Carson Palmer already said that should be happening, and Larry Fitzgerald made it sound like he is expecting more Cardinals than ever before to show up at his Minnesota workouts (and also some in San Diego, where Palmer lives.)

— While I will take my pre-vacation guesstimates at lineups next week like I usually do, Arians clearly hasn’t set much in stone. That’s because football “is a noise-level game,” he said, and the noise level doesn’t exist in the offseason in shorts. Some things are guarantees as you would think, Palmer and Fitz and Peterson and Campbell and Dockett among them. But there is wiggle room for training camp upsets.

— We are far from setting a roster too. But some of the undrafted guys who made positive impressions include receivers Jaron Brown, Charles Hawkins and Robert Gill, nose tackle Padric Scott and tackle Jamaal Johnson-Webb. We’ll have to see if that can carry through training camp.

— Arians is going to spend a few weeks at his lake home in Georgia during his vacation, which for the coaches starts now as well. Arians will also be hosting his first charity golf tournament June 24-25 in Georgia. He made sure to invite anyone from Arizona who wants to come, so, if you are looking for something to do

— Rookies will stay one more week with Lott. The veterans are out.

— Arians said recuperating quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens stopped by the facility. Arians isn’t sure that was the best thing given Kitchens’ health but “he wanted to see his quarterbacks.”


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