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Ellington takes his shot at punt returns

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2016 – 10:13 am

Andre Ellington is now listed as the top kickoff and punt returner on the depth chart. The kickoff part isn’t that surprising. The punt return part is, since a) Ellington has never really done it and b) it wasn’t really a consideration when camp started. But Ellington, who finally got a chance to return one in a game in San Diego, is going to have the opportunity.

We’ll see how comfortable Ellington can get back there. This possibility has been building since the day Chris Johnson re-signed. When the three top running backs were healthy last season, David Johnson was returning kickoffs and there was a reason to have all three active on game days. Now that David Johnson is going to be the main back, he won’t be returning kickoffs — so to have all three active, someone has to play special teams. That’s not Chris Johnson. So you try and see what Ellington can do as the dual return man. (You don’t really want Patrick Peterson returning punts anymore either.)

Watching him in practice, Ellington looks very much like a work in progress. But Bruce Arians is right — if Ellington does get his hands on a punt, he’s the kind of player that fits such a return perfectly, getting the ball in space on what essentially is an extended stretch running play, in which Ellington can use his burst to blow up the field.

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Thoughts after the Red-White practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2016 – 4:56 pm

Here we are after the Red-White practice, the annual first real break point of training camp. From here on out — save for the bye week — the Cardinals will have a football game every week. That starts this coming Friday with the preseason opener at home against Oakland.

But first, a few thoughts and analysis after the Red-White work, which featured a lot more live play than I was expecting. It was good to see real football again. I know Andre Ellington agrees.

— Among the “stars” Saturday was wide receiver Jaron Brown, who made several nice catches — including a 25-yard TD reception from Larry Fitzgerald on the WR option pass. Brown is one of those guys who could easily be with another team making more plays than he does in Arizona. He simply has too many talented guys ahead of him.

— Ellington also looked very good as a receiver. The Cards’ passing game looked pretty sharp all around.

— Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones caused havoc up front as the practice went on. Jones continues to show he will be a great pass rusher.

— Not a great sign considering both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians have said short-yardage improvement is a priority, but during “live” play in the middle of the field Chris Johnson was stuffed for a loss on a fourth-and-1 run.

— And in the goal line “live” drill, the first-string offense failed to score in three tries. There was an incomplete play-action pass, and then David Johnson was swamped under on two other runs. Linebacker Kevin Minter got Johnson the first time (Minter had a smile about it, as you can see in the picture), while veteran DT Red Bryant led the charge to blow up the final attempt.

— The second-unit offense was more successful in goal line, scoring twice on runs by Chris Johnson and Elijhaa Penny.

— Despite all the hitting/tackling, no one seemed to get hurt, although guard Mike Iupati did go down on a play when it looked like someone rolled up on his legs. Iupati was able to get back in after one play though, so crisis averted.

— Crowd was estimated at 25,000.

— The Cards are off Sunday, and resume practice Monday.

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Mathieu and the Cards’ contract cliff

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2016 – 10:25 am

Tyrann Mathieu is going to get a contract extension. When, exactly, remains an unknown, although Ian Rapoport reported Monday the team and Mathieu are “deep in negotiations” toward a deal. I’ve long felt this was a matter of when and not if with the all-pro safety. For a multitude of reasons for both sides, it behooves both to get a new contract done.

But from the Cardinals’ end, a big reason to want to lock up Mathieu is because of the laundry list of players who, as of right now, are free agents after this upcoming season. It’s a subject we’ve talked about before, and the reality is not everyone will be with the Cardinals after this year. Still, if you have hope to having some guys around, you’d think the Cards would want to pare down the work facing them before this year ends. Here is the list — and it doesn’t include every single FA-to-be — of guys who are contract-less after 2016, as it stands right now:

— S Tyrann Mathieu
— WR Larry Fitzgerald
— OLB Chandler Jones
— DT Calais Campbell
— WR Michael Floyd
— G Evan Mathis
— DT Frostee Rucker
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Andre Ellington
— S Tony Jefferson
— TE Jermaine Gresham
— OLB Alex Okafor
— ILB Kevin Minter
— WR Jaron Brown
— S D.J. Swearinger
— RB Stepfan Taylor

That isn’t the entire list, but those are the bigger names. Obviously, each are taken individually to an extent. Some guys the team will just move on from in the normal course of roster change in a salary-capped world. But big picture, it’s a puzzle GM Steve Keim and his department are working on as this season approaches.

Contacrtcliffblog


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On CJ and other free agency odds and ends

Posted by Darren Urban on March 16, 2016 – 7:49 pm

On a day when the Cardinals nabbed Evan Mathis for the offensive line — the team’s second outside free agent acquired, exactly one week into free agency — GM Steve Keim wasn’t sure how much more the team will do in signing players. “I think we’re at a point where you let it come to you,” Keim said. The price has to be right in every spot. And there are still some moving parts.

— Running back Chris Johnson was in Miami to visit the Dolphins Wednesday. The Cardinals could still bring Johnson back, but with David Johnson in place, both the money and opportunities for CJ2K in Arizona would be limited. From afar, it looks like the Dolphins — who lost Lamar Miller to free agency — could offer more of both. UPDATE: Johnson is coming back.

— Karlos Dansby was cut by the Browns Wednesday — interestingly, two years after going to Cleveland, after the Cards offered a two-year contract themselves back in 2014. (Although Dansby got more guaranteed money from the Browns, so financially, it made more sense). The Cardinals will look at Dansby, but a third term as a Card seems unlikely. At 34, he’s likely not the same physically he was two or three years ago. Plus, would Los go for a minimum salary-type of deal?

— The visit of guard Geoff Schwartz doesn’t figure to happen now that Mathis was signed. Haven’t heard anything else about tackle Andre Smith. UPDATE: Smith signed with the Vikings.

— Cornerback Leon Hall visited Dallas after Arizona, but Hall still isn’t signed (which likely says something about how Hall has overpriced himself at this point.) It still stands to reason the Cards want to sign a veteran cornerback. Maybe it could still be Hall. It could still be Jerraud Powers.


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Weatherspoon exits as rare one-year miss

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2016 – 10:18 am

Steve Keim has proved excellent at bringing in players on one-year deals and having them make an impact: Eric Winston, Matt Shaughnessy, Karlos Dansby, Antonio Cromartie, Larry Foote, Chris Johnson, Dwight Freeney. They won’t all work out, though, and Sean Weatherspoon — which looked so promising when it happened — did not work out.

Weatherspoon is re-signing with the Falcons after his one year out West. Weatherspoon only had 12 tackles in an extremely limited defensive role (he played just 125 snaps all season) over 14 games. He needed to show he could stay healthy again and he did that, although it was a red flag to his time in Arizona when he was active but didn’t play against the Rams in October and then the next week, was a healthy scratch against the Lions.

It’s hard to believe that Weatherspoon played with the first unit through the entire offseason work, although at that point, Deone Bucannon was working a lot at safety too. But training camp came, Weatherspoon’s hamstring became a problem, and when he missed most of the month, he had dug himself a hole he could never escape — especially after Kevin Minter showed more than expected when he was on the field.

To Spoon’s credit, he never sulked (although he did seem resigned to the fact early on he wasn’t moving up the depth chart). It was clear he wouldn’t be around in 2016. And that’s the upside about seeking one-year deals. Yes, sometimes a guy like a Dansby blows up and leaves for another team. Then you have a “miss” like Weatherspoon who creates no issue because his contract is up and both sides can just move on.

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Chris Johnson wants to be a Cardinal

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2016 – 8:37 pm

Among the free-agents-to-be for the Cardinals is veteran running back Chris Johnson. Johnson said right after the season he thinks he can fit in a backfield with starter David Johnson. Now, he believes he can make something work with the Cards knowing there probably isn’t going to be any huge contract available.

“I feel like at this point in my career I am not really chasing the money,” Johnson said on Sirius XM NFL radio Tuesday night. “I can’t say I ever really chased the money, but when you’re a young guy in this league, you want to take care of your family and get the highest deal possible. I still want to get the best deal, but at the same time, I want to be somewhere where we have a chance to win. I feel like Arizona is the best place for me right now.”

Johnson had 814 yards rushing in just 11 games (and nine starts) before a knee injury ended his season. Johnson could have played in the Super Bowl if the Cards had made it. What will make this situation interesting is whether a deal with Johnson can get done before the draft, and if the Cards decide to ultimately stay with the same running backs room in 2016. David Johnson is the unquestioned starter going into next season. Andre Ellington is in line to be No. 2 as he goes into the last year of his contract.

As the Cardinals proved this season, though, having three quality backs available usually is needed through a 16-game season.

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Cash for a fast Combine 40, and the Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on February 9, 2016 – 3:13 pm

Long before he came to the Cardinals, even before he rushed for 2,000 yards and became the only player in NFL history to have more than 2,500 yards from scrimmage in a season, Chris Johnson caught everyone’s attention when he ran a 4.24-second 40-yard dash at the 2008 Scouting combine (I think, had he lasted until the second round, the Cardinals were very interested at the time. They took Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 16th; Johnson went 24th to the Titans.)

So this year, adidas is offering up $1 million for any player who can top Johnson’s speed at the combine. (The catch: A player has to wear the company’s Adizero 5-star 40 cleats.) In previous years, adidas has been offering 40 money — $100,000 at a time. Two years ago, $100,000 went to current Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who went 4.33 seconds. That still gets a wistful shake of the head from Cardinals wideout Smokey Brown, who ran a 4.34 and understands how close he came to the cash.

Last year, the prize was going to be a custom Porsche, but it conflicted with NFL endorsements, so three guys collected $100,000 each instead: Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes (4.31), Colts wideout Phillip Dorsett (4.33) and Bears wideout Kevin White (4.35). The painful Cardinals connection was that it was actually wide receiver J.J. Nelson who ran the faster 40 time at the combine last year, at 4.28. But to win the money the player had to be signed to an adidas endorsement contract before he ran. The other three were. Alas, Nelson was not.

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In a rush for 2,000

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2015 – 10:33 am

It’s been a popular question posed to me recently, from fans and when I’m doing radio interviews: What’s the difference between this year’s team and last year’s pre-Palmer knee team? There are a few. But the most obvious — and the most important, in my opinion — is the Cardinals’ ability to run the football.

The Cardinals, with one game left, are sixth in the NFL with 126 yards a game rushing. This is a team that hasn’t ranked higher than 23th in rushing since 2005 and has been in the bottom three in rushing six times in that span — including last season, when they were 31st. Yes, injuries played a big factor in last year’s troubles. Still, the massive improvement isn’t just being healthy. In fact, like last year, Andre Ellington has been banged up much of this season. And the Cardinals lost Chris Johnson. But GM Steve Keim drafted David Johnson and made sure he had three capable runners. He signed very good run blocker Mike Iupati for his offensive line.

This is a team that got 814 yards rushing out of Chris Johnson — which was third in the league after 11 games, when CJ2K got hurt — and looks like they upgraded at the position with David Johnson. Don’t forget too, Ellington was off to a great start running the ball as starter in the season opener before he got hurt (Ellington only has 43 rushing attempts this season, but he has averaged an eye-popping 6.7 yards a carry.) David Johnson has 556 yards on 114 carries, 4.9 yards a tote.

Overall, the Cardinals need 110 yards rushing against the Seahawks to reach 2,000 rushing yards this season. (By comparison, the Cards rushed for 1,308 yards in 2014.) But 2,000? That’s a total this franchise hasn’t reached since 1988 — the first year the Cards were in Arizona. If only Drew Stanton didn’t have his 13 kneeldowns for minus-13 yards, right?

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Palmer leads Cards’ final Pro Bowl list

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2015 – 11:45 am

Quarterback Carson Palmer was the top vote-getter for the Cardinals now that the public part of Pro Bowl voting has ended. Palmer got the fourth most votes of any player — 514,967, to be specific — and was also fourth overall in the NFL, since QBs all finished ahead of him (Brady, Newton, Dalton).

Free safety Tyrann Mathieu dropped a spot to third at his position, but Frostee Rucker made a late surge to get into the top 10. In all, 11 Cardinals were ranked in the top 10 in votes at their respective positions. Players and coaches vote later this week league-wide to come up with the final Pro Bowl tallies/roster, and they get announced Dec. 22.

The full Cardinals’ list:

— QB Carson Palmer fourth

— RB Chris Johnson eighth

— WR Larry Fitzgerald fourth (with an impressive 410,095 votes)

— G Mike Iupati fifth

— DT Calais Campbell fifth, Frostee Rucker seventh

— CB Patrick Peterson fifth

— SS Rashad Johnson seventh, Deone Bucannon 10th

— FS Tyrann Mathieu third

— Special teams Justin Bethel fourth

ProBowlBLOG

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Mathieu, Palmer lead way for Pro Bowl votes

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2015 – 11:20 am

With the Pro Bowl fan voting winding down (it ends Dec. 15, and you can vote by going to azcardinals.com/probowl), seven Cardinals are in the top five in their position, led still by free safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is second only to Carolina’s Kurt Coleman (although Coleman has him by 50,000 votes right now.)

Quarterback Carson Palmer remains among the top 10 in overall vote getters at seventh overall (although he’s behind Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman?) The MVP candidate is fifth among quarterbacks. Here’s the full list of the 11 Cardinals who are in the top 10 for Pro Bowl voting at their positions.

— QB Carson Palmer fifth

— RB Chris Johnson seventh

— WR Larry Fitzgerald fourth

— G Mike Iupati fifth

— DT Calais Campbell fifth

— CB Patrick Peterson fourth

— SS Rashad Johnson seventh and Deone Bucannon ninth

— FS Tyrann Mathieu second

— Kick returner David Johnson 10th

— Special teamer Justin Bethel fourth

ProBowlBlog


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