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Blogs

Considering Alfonso

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2013 – 5:59 pm

Alfonso Smith first came to the Cardinals in April of 2010. It’s been a journey back and forth since then. He’s always flashed talent, but he could never get past guys with more glittering resumes like Tim Hightower/Beanie Wells/Ryan Williams/LaRod Stephens-Howling/Chester Taylor. Last year, in fact, he was released in favor of William Powell at the end of camp. But when Wells and Williams suffered more injuries, the Cards brought Smith back, and it is he and not all the others (save for Williams) who is still around.

Now, everyone is talking about Rashard Mendenhall’s career comeback or what Williams can still do or what draftees Stepfan Taylor or Andre Ellington might be able to do. Smith still has an uphill climb to a roster. He knows this.

“Man, in the past when I was younger it would frustrate me and it would cloud my mind and I wouldn’t perform to the best of my ability,” Smith said. “Now I know sometimes things aren’t in my hands and I just go out there and give it all I got and coaches, fans and y’all (in the media) see hey, I can play. I know those guys have proven themselves too. But I do have talent and I work hard and I am just as good.”

It’s hard not to notice him. You can argue he isn’t always going against the top part of the roster, but Smith looks the part much of the time. And he practices like you’d expect — like he knows his time could be cut short at any point. The other day during 1-on-1 pass protection drills, Smith had a pair of doozies with linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Reggie Walker (below) when he doggedly battled in a setup that are designed to make it very hard for a back to be successful.

“I look at the defense that they are trying to take food out of my mouth, they are trying to take food away from my family,” Smith said. “I take it very personal. When I saw Mendenhall and Ryan (Williams) go out and the defense kind of got the best of them, it pissed me off. That’s like seeing your brothers getting in a fight. I just wanted to go hit the defense in the mouth.”

The numbers say the Cards will keep at least four running backs. Keeping a fifth is usually a luxury. So Smith fights to see if he can stick around yet again.

“(Coaches) don’t really tell me anything but I know when I do well,” Smith said. “I grade myself hard. When I mess up one time out out of the whole practice, I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve got to fix that because I know my window is not as big as theirs and my opportunities are slim.’ That’s all I can do.”


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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2012 – 11:32 pm

There was frustration late in regulation after the Cards’ offense couldn’t generate any movement right before the two-minute warning. In three plays, the Cards couldn’t gain a first down and could only burn 12 seconds off the clock. The defense was exhausted.

But they huddled up and rallied. The Seahawks weren’t going to score again, not in regulation, and certainly not in overtime. That’s how the defense was the last half of the season. “I think we’re gonna be pretty good,” safety Adrian Wilson said.

There was no question the end of Sunday’s season finale win was about Larry Fitzgerald but it was also about that defense, overcoming two big plays against it – the 61-yard pass that beat Marshay Green and the 48-yard Leon Washington run, both for TDs. If they can secure defensive end Calais Campbell with a long-term contract (he will be around in 2012 regardless), if they can get another pass rusher to help out the linebacking corps, if they can get Greg Toler back healthy and re-sign Richard Marshall, you have to like where the defense is going – especially after seeing where it had been.

– I’m not going to go on and on about Larry Fitzgerald, even though I could. One catch for two yards in the first half, and then to finish 9-149? That one-handed catch in OT was amazing, but, being on the field and seeing that first 26-yarder he had in overtime, the one that looked impossible to grab in between two defenders, that was the kind of play that leaves you speechless.

“I see it every day in practice,” Wilson said. “That’s Fitz. It’s not uncommon for him to make a pinky catch or an over-the-shoulder, one-handed with people dragging all over him.”

– Fitz has now played the Seahawks 16 times in his career. His stats? 102 catches, 1,371 yards, 10 touchdowns.

– I was impressed Fitz admitted that, in the past, he would have sulked had he only had one catch in the first half. They can’t have that from him, and he knows it. Another reason they had no problem giving him the huge contract before the season.

– Quarterback John Skelton was asked about having a chance at being a starter in 2012. “I hope I do. That’s for the coaching staff to determine. … Kevin (Kolb) and I have a great relationship, we push each other and we always help each other out. We will see what happens.”

Whiz will be asked about it tomorrow, but I’m guessing Skelton will have a chance to fight for the job, while Kolb will be, officially, the No. 1 heading into the offseason.

– Skelton missed too many throws Sunday, his biggest bugaboo. You can’t miss the throws when they are there.

– The Cards finally got an interception on a well-designed scheme that made it easy for Marshall to make a pick. But if linebacker Daryl Washington had just been able to hang on for the one that would have prevented a field goal – “I was looking at the end zone,” Washington said. “I don’t even really want to even talk about it” – then maybe defensive coordinator Ray Horton wouldn’t be trying to focus on getting more turnovers this offseason.

– Washington played a really good game, however. He had 11 tackles, including a couple for loss.

– Cornerback Marshay Green gets in his first NFL game, and he’ll be remembered for getting on the wrong side of Ricardo Lockette’s catch. Green felt he got a little unlucky on the catch, and Lockette did make a nice play to concentrate on making a bobbling grab. Why Green? “We just wanted to make sure with Patrick (Peterson) he didn’t get tired and have fatigue with his Achilles (injury),” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We had the extra corner up so we had a rotation.”

– Todd Heap and Chester Taylor each scored their first touchdowns as Cardinals in the final game of the season. Assuming Ryan Williams comes back as expected, I don’t see Taylor on the roster next season. Heap is signed and I’d think, in the end, he’ll be back, but I don’t think it’s a lock, depending on the progress of Rob Housler.

– Good to see Vonnie Holliday play well. I’d think they’d like Holliday back if he wants to come back. Great in the locker room. And as he noted himself, it looks like he’s got a little bit of football left in his 36-year-old body.

– Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling played a solid game, with 93 yards on 21 carries. He was effective at the very end plowing up the middle as the Cards set up field-goal range. At his size, he can’t do that all the time, but there were times during the season he looked like he passed up some chances because he wanted to bounce it outside.

– It got pretty chippy out there against Seattle and it looked like a playoff berth was on the line, not just 8-8. There were seven total personal fouls/15-yard penalties called in the game. “Division games, around the league, they are more physical than the rest,” said Cardinals tackle Levi Brown, who drew one of the flags when he shoved a Seattle player to the ground for tangling with Skelton after a play. “You see them twice a year. Once you see a team and those guys over and over, you learn to not really like those guys.”

OK. The Cards wrap up first thing in the morning. We’ll talk more then.


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1,000 reasons to watch Beanie, Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2011 – 9:54 am

With four games left in the regular season, both wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back Beanie Wells are near-guarantees to reach 1,000 yards receiving and rushing. There is a chance — perhaps good — they could both do it Sunday against the 49ers.

Fitz only needs 57 more receiving yards to get to 1,000, which would be the sixth such season of his career and set a franchise record. It’s become clear Fitzgerald isn’t going to end up with the 90-to-100 receptions he craves — with 55, he is only on pace for 73 — but his yardage total will be up there (on pace for 1,257) and as has been mentioned many times, his per-catch average will be the highest of his career.

Beanie is in a different spot. He’s never had 1,000 yards before. After his 793-yard showing as a rookie, playing part-time with Tim Hightower, you figured he’d eventually get there. But then knee issues and general struggles last season put that into question. Guess it shouldn’t have. Even with new knee problems this season — and missing a game in Seattle because of a bad hamstring — Wells already has 916 yards (and has career highs, already, in attempts with 201, yards and touchdowns, with nine.) Edgerrin James is the last Card to rush for 1,000 when he had 1,222 in 2007. Edge averaged 3.8 yards a carry that season. Beanie is averaging 4.6 yards a carry and is on pace for 1,249 yards even after missing the one game.

“It’s always been one of my goals, that plateau,” Wells said. “Being a running back in the league, a thousand yards is the mark. I definitely want to hit it.”

Beanie needs 84, which will make for an interesting game Sunday. The 49ers are allowing just 71.8 rushing yards total per game, well short of what Beanie needs by himself. The most yards any individual has gained rushing against San Francisco in 12 games actually was a quarterback — the Eagles’ Michael Vick had 75 on eight carries. The Bengals’ Cedric Benson had 64 on 17 carries. No player has come close to 84.

Beanie only had 33 yards in the first game against the 49ers (Chester Taylor actually was the leading rusher thanks to his one attempt for 34 yards) but he had only eight carries and averaged 4.1 yards a rush.

“It was something I thought about at the beginning of the year, but as the season has gone on, I haven’t thought about it,” Wells said, downplaying the possibility of doing it against the Niners. “Whoever I get it against, I just want to get it.”


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Niners aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2011 – 11:41 pm

The locker room was emptying quickly, but Darnell Dockett was still smudged with eye black and in his football pants, talking to wave after wave of media questions. No one – at least publicly – has more bile for the 49ers. But after the way the Niners controlled Sunday’s game, even Dockett relented.

“It’s hard for me to sit here and not admit they are a good team,” Dockett said. “There is a reason they are 9-1.  I usually don’t give credit to no one, especially in the division.”

When you cover a singular team, you always evaluate through the prism of that team. Sometimes, what the other team is doing gets lost a little bit, and as Dockett said, there is a reason the Niners have won so many games and are going to win the NFC West.

Of course, my prism – the prism of this blog – is about the Cardinals. So, in the wake of the 23-7 loss:

– There isn’t a good reason to go on too long about the play of quarterback John Skelton. Obviously, he didn’t play well. He said that plainly on Twitter just a little while ago – “I cost my team a win with my poor play today. We’ll bounce back and so will the #birdgang” – and the part that hurt Sunday wasn’t that he had an off game, because that happens. But it can’t be that off. It can’t be two first downs in the first half, or 23 total yards on the first six possessions of the game.

I don’t know right now if Kevin Kolb is going to be ready this week. Coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasized he didn’t want to evaluate Skelton just on what happen at Candlestick. But if there was any doubt that Kolb will be going back into the lineup, those should have been put to rest Sunday.

– Defensively, while the Cards’ numbers aren’t going to be great, the unit showed. Defensive end Calais Campbell said he thought the defense could have played better, and he’s right. For instance, with the score 9-0, the Cards can’t allow a seven-plus-minute drive to start the third quarter. But the 49ers had the ball for more than 44 minutes (simply mind-boggling) because the Cards’ offense couldn’t hold on to the ball.

“They were on the field forever,” Whisenhunt said. “That they were able to stay out there against a power team like they are and they try to wear you down … The effort they gave, it’s pretty important.”

– I thought Dan Williams was having a pretty good game Sunday. He was in on a handful of plays, including some he had to chase down. Terrible that he broke his arm. David Carter, you’re up.

– Beanie Wells was running hard on the few chances he did get. He had 33 yards on eight carries. Whiz was asked about running more to protect Skelton. He acknowledged he could have, but also said there were plays to be made that weren’t. I’ve said this before, but – while some plays might have been called better – I still don’t think playcalling is one of the major issues.

– Here was one piece of good news: running back Chester Taylor made a 34-yard run in the fourth quarter, the longest run against the stingy 49ers defense all season.

– On the play where Patrick Peterson fumbled the punt, what I couldn’t figure out is how Hamza Abdullah didn’t block the punt. Abdullah broke clean in on Andy Lee yet missed it. Abdullah admitted he can’t believe he missed it either – he said he actually got in too fast, basically passing the ball.

– Peterson had some issues at cornerback. He got a pass interference and he gave up a few early catches. But he didn’t lose confidence. “I felt like I was in good position,” he said. “I felt like I didn’t take a step back but there is room for improvement.”

I guess the story this week will be the quarterback. If Kolb can’t go, Skelton will start against the Rams. And we’ll see if the position – no matter who is in there – can find a way to have a consistent performance.


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Heap, Taylor inactive; Skelton backup QB

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2011 – 11:35 am

After the bye, the Cardinals have made some changes to inactives — some injury-related, some not. As expected, TE Todd Heap (hamstring) is out, after missing all week of practice. But John Skelton has been elevated on the depth chart as backup QB, with Richard Bartel inactive for the first time this season. RB Chester Taylor is also inactive, with Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling all healthy again (with Alfonso Smith). Smith was officially moved ahead of Taylor on the depth chart this week.

The other inactives for the Cards:

  • S Kerry Rhodes (foot)
  • T D’Anthony Batiste
  • TE Jim Dray (pectoral)
  • DE Ronald Talley

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Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2011 – 5:02 pm

Talking to Patrick Peterson earlier this week about special teams – specifically, blocking field goals – and his other specialty of punt returns came up. I was down on the Cardinals’ sideline when Peterson grabbed the Redskins’ punt on the final play of last weekend’s game, and while there was a slew of bodies, it looked like he might have a seam to create a miracle, and I told him that.

Peterson, sitting on a stool, chuckled. “If someone would have blocked the punter,” he said, “I was gone. I was gone.”

Sure enough, when I went to watch the play on DVR, it was Washington punter Sav Rocca – one of the ex-Aussie Rules Football players, like Ben Graham, a big man – who actually tackled Peterson to end the game. It was too hard to tell if Peterson would have been able to go all the way, but …

Ah, time to live in the now. The Cardinals are 1-1. They need to win this game in Seattle. The Seahawks are reeling after just two weeks, and frankly, just don’t have the talent. They have faced two pretty good defenses – the 49ers are still good on that side of the ball – but the Cards’ defense needs to make this a game where it comes out feeling better about itself.

People will talk about the noise up there, but the bottom line is this – if you are the better team, the crowd won’t make the Seahawks win. The Cards have their silent count and their experience. Kevin Kolb doesn’t seem worried about anything but the Seahawks’ defense. Good sign.

– The Seahawks are coming off a game in which they played Pittsburgh, which figures to help both teams. Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said his team can go through the film and glean quite a bit because the Cardinals are basically playing the same defense as the Steelers.

But defensive coordinator Ray Horton also thinks it will help his players see exactly what each position should be doing in certain situations, all while watching video of the upcoming opponent. Already, Horton said, his players “marveled” at how fast the Steelers played on defense. That’s what happens when everyone already knows what they are doing.

– Tight end Jeff King was fined $7,500 for his nasty-but-touchdown-saving facemask on Washington punt returner Brandon Banks. Safety Kerry Rhodes was not fined for his accidental hit on an official; Rhodes said his hand was actually slapped away by a Redskin and that’s how it ended up touching the official.

– It will be interesting to see how the injuries play out Sunday. The biggest question of course will be Beanie Wells and his hamstring. Someone asked me if he’d be limited in his carries if he plays. My thought is, if Beanie has to be limited to play, he probably shouldn’t play at all. If he doesn’t, I am curious to see what Alfonso Smith can bring to the table, and how Chester Taylor looks.

– Of course, LaRod Stephens-Howling could also carry the ball. He’s also a game-day decision, as is linebacker Daryl Washington. I’m feeling much more confident those guys are ready to give you something Sunday. Getting Washington, even if it is in spot duty, is important for this defense.

– A quick side note. A big-time Cardinals fan from back East who works as an animal cruelty investigator just lost a close friend who was a police officer. Nick mentioned how all police officers need to be appreciated – his friend Joe Szczerba was killed on a routine disturbing the peace call – and, as I was thinking, so too do firefighters. I know there was a lot of that a couple weeks ago for the 9/11 ceremonies – so many police and firefighters had their lives touched by the tragedy – but also on a daily basis simply because it is the job they have chosen. To all of them, thank you.

– Former Card Alan Branch is playing well as a starter in Seattle. Does this offensive line — which is doing better than most think — know enough of him to neutralize Branch? That will make for an interesting subplot.

– From the there-are-no-sure-things-in-the-draft department: The Seahawks took linebacker Aaron Curry with the fourth pick of the 2009 draft and many at the time believed he was the surest thing in that draft. Here we are, a couple of years later, and Curry has been demoted to second-string.

– The Seahawks have a 6-foot-4 cornerback named Brandon Browner. He was a four-year star in the Canadian Football League. Now they are asking him to do it in the NFL. It isn’t working – not yet, anyway. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Steelers threw 10 passes Browner’s way last week – and completed every single one (for 194 yards). He also had a 39-yard pass interference call against him. And that’s the guy they keep saying is going to cover the 6-foot-3 Larry Fitzgerald? Fitz said all the right things this week about Browner, but I would guess he’s got to be jacked up over the possibility of such a matchup.

I always like the trip to Seattle. I like the city, like hanging out there. It’s always a better visit after a win, though.


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Beanie decision comes game day

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2011 – 1:17 pm

It what is no surprise, coach Ken Whisenhunt said running back Beanie Wells — who had hamstring issues Thursday at practice — will be a game-day decision in Seattle. The official injury report is still to come, but Wells said he did go through some work Friday. Whisenhunt said part of the week of work was getting newcomer and veteran Chester Taylor more reps, so there is a comfort level if Wells cannot go.

“We wanted to be conservative as opposed to injuring it so Chester got a lot of reps,” Whisenhunt said.

“It’s doing well,” Wells said. “It got a little tight yesterday so we decided to let it calm down a little bit,” adding “I don’t think I’ll be limited at all if I play Sunday.”

Linebacker Daryl Washington (calf) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) continue to increase their workload in practice, something Whisenhunt said he is “excited about.” Both will join Wells as game-day decisions. Adding Stephens-Howling would help if Wells is out. The Cardinals also have Alfonso Smith, who is inexperienced (he has never had an NFL carry in the regular season) but has flashed talent during preseason work.


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Beanie added to injury report

Posted by Darren Urban on September 22, 2011 – 2:34 pm

Running back Beanie Wells was added to the injury report today, listed as limited because of a hamstring problem apparently suffered today. The injury report just came out, long after locker room access and coach Ken Whisenhunt’s meeting with the media, so there won’t be any further info. Certainly tomorrow figures to be an important day for Wells, who has been playing so well in the first couple of games.

Any injury issue with Wells, whether it keeps him out of a game or not, has to give the Cards pause. That’s why the season-ending injury to rookie Ryan Williams was such a blow. Veteran Chester Taylor had just one carry last week in his first game as a Card (it went for no gain). I am still curious to see Alfonso Smith get a chance in a game that counts. Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) is still limited.

Wells wasn’t the only player added to the injury list. Linebacker Joey Porter showed up with a knee issue, limiting his work. On the flip side, Daryl Washington did some limited work for the first time since hurting his calf in the season opener.

Wide receiver Chansi Stuckey (hamstring) and tight end Jim Dray (pectoral) each had to sit out practice. For the full injury report, click here.


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Washington, Stephens-Howling inactive for Redskins

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2011 – 8:34 am

In what is no surprise after both missed all week of practice, LB Daryl Washington (calf) and RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) are inactive for today’s game. Paris Lenon will slide into Washington’s spot and Stewart Bradley will get his first start for the Cardinals as the other inside linebacker. Chester Taylor will get Stephens-Howling’s spot.

John Skelton remains inactive at QB, meaning that, for the time being, Rich Bartel has won the No. 2 quarterback role, since Skelton has recovered from his ankle injury.

The other inactives include CB Crezdon Butler, who suffered a significant ankle injury last week in practice, CB Korey Lindsey, TE Jim Dray — who is still recovering from his pectoral strain — and T D’Anthony Batiste.


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Friday before the Redskins

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2011 – 4:56 pm

It was hard not to notice back in training camp. Tight end Jeff King had scored a touchdown in a practice, and he leaped afterward and spiked it through his legs. He said it was his trademark – kinda funny, since King is known as a blocker – but he followed through.

There King was, scoring on his 48-yard TD reception last weekend and, boom, a spike between the legs. He even recounted the play this week, saying that on his mind as he sprinted for the end zone “I was just thinking I have to spike it at some point.”

“It’s been a constant throughout my career,” King said. “I think was that number 10, so that was my 10th spike.”

King knows his TDs. That was indeed his 10th career touchdown, and he certainly went between the legs last season when he scored against the Cards when he was playing for the Panthers. The tight ends have been let loose in Arizona.

– Coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week he liked his linebacker play and apparently, so did the website ProFootballFocus.com.  After grading film they put together an all-Pro Football Focus team for the week. Not only did Daryl Washington make the NFL-wide list but so too did veteran outside linebacker Clark Haggans. It would be huge if Haggans is able to keep up that sort of work.

– This will be the week, I think where we see some things from a pair of veterans who didn’t do anything last week: running back Chester Taylor and linebacker Stewart Bradley. Obviously, Taylor was inactive last week, having joined the Cardinals too late for Whisenhunt to want to play him. Bradley was active, but played little other than special teams because he was still getting his feet under him.

I think both would have had a role against the Redskins, but with both Washington (calf) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) questionable to play, it would just up the ante of needing Taylor and Bradley. When it comes to Bradley, the Cards have long lauded the flexibility of starter Paris Lenon – who played both inside linebacker roles last year – and Lenon could switch to Washington’s side to allow Bradley to be in his more natural spot.

– As for the ex-Cardinal running back, Tim Hightower said this game is “going to be little extra sentimental and a little more emotional, just because I kind of grew up (with the Cards).

“The incentive there is like when that teacher has been teaching a student, and that student finally gets to a point where he is kind of on his own and you get a chance to come back and see the teacher, you want to put your best foot forward,” Hightower said. “That’s the mindset I’m taking this week.”

– On the other side of that trade, Cardinals defensive end Vonnie Holliday smiled when he thought of playing the Redskins. “I feel like I kind of raised some of those guys up,” Holliday said. “I feel like I know what it takes to beat them, some of their weaknesses and some of their strengths. I can tell my guys about that here.

“Same thing on the offensive side of the ball … if a guy is shaded this way, this is what that means. I know they know that too. Certainly at this point in my career I have to be a student of the game. I take a lot of pride in that. The fast-twitch is not the same, so you have to anticipate. That’s what I do in the game, from the front to the secondary, I pay attention.”

– Speaking of learning and teaching, in some ways, the Redskins did just that with the Cardinals. After Mike Shanahan was fired by the Broncos and before he was hired by the Redskins, he did a training camp tour that included a stop in Flagstaff to look at the Cards — and specifically, how they ran the 3-4 defense.

“When I came back to Washington something I wanted to do is run the 3-4, because if you look over the past 25 years, it’s probably the most successful,” Shanahan said. “I like the indecisions, from an offensive standpoint, of not knowing which linebacker was coming and the overall philosophy of keeping an offense off balance.”

– The last two times the Cardinals have gone to Washington  — 2007 and 2008 – they have stayed in the game and had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, except they were unable to come up with a winning kick. I’d think it’ll come down to whether the defense can come up with a more effective outing. There’s no question Rex Grossman has a history of making mistakes if you pressure him enough.

Offensively, you’d think the Cards will be effective. The hope is Larry Fitzgerald is able to be more involved, but quarterback Kevin Kolb did a good job looking elsewhere when necessary.

Who knows, maybe King will get a chance to spike the ball again.


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