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Before #CardsCamp, Keim’s notable camp signings

Posted by Darren Urban on July 19, 2017 – 10:02 am

As mentioned the other day, the Cardinals still have a vacancy on their 90-man roster. Bruce Arians, during an interview on Arizona Sports, indicated that the Cards could still re-sign veteran running back Chris Johnson, which has always been a possibility as long as Johnson remained on the market.

With all that in mind, a quick look at the notable veterans General Manager Steve Keim has signed in the days prior or during training camp while the Cardinals are at University of Phoenix Stadium:

2013 — T Eric Winston (started all season), LB John Abraham (led team in sacks), K Dan Carpenter (signed as competition to Jay Feely, lost battle.)

2014 — T Max Starks (eventually released at end of camp), DT Tommy Kelly (had a solid season as a replacement for the injured Darnell Dockett.)

2015 — TE Jermaine Gresham (has been team’s top tight end since), C Lyle Sendlein (started all season), RB Chris Johnson (played well before late-season injury.)

2016 — LB Donald Butler (released during final cuts), CB Mike Jenkins (was in line to start until tearing ACL).

Odds favor a couple more signings in this camp, necessary either because of play or injury. Whether they make a difference (see: 2016) we will see, but as always, the roster is churning.


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About that roster spot …

Posted by Darren Urban on July 10, 2017 – 1:51 pm

As I come back off vacation, things are still quiet around the Cardinals’ facility. Coaches and players won’t start filtering in until next week (report day for training camp is a week from Friday, with the first practice on July 22, a week from Saturday.) This is the time when the radar gets raised for a potential veteran signing for training camp.

The Cardinals currently have one open spot on the 90-man roster, a vacancy created the last time the Cards made moves more than a month ago. Odds are that it would be more of a fringe guy to fill out a position heading into camp, a name that most won’t recognize. But it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to have someone with a better chance of making the roster. The last we heard from GM Steve Keim, the team was monitoring a bunch of veterans who were possibilities (assuming the price was right.)

There are cornerbacks out there, although if  you are floating around right now, there are questions: Darrelle Revis is price v. age (and since he is already making $6 million this season and has offset language, he may not be motivated to play), Sam Shields has dealt with concussions, Brandon Flowers and Alterraun Verner are smaller. When last we heard from running back Chris Johnson, he said he was still in contact with the team. Maybe there is a guard to compete with Evan Boehm (besides rookie Dorian Johnson.)

One thing that seems certain: Adding whomever it is won’t be the only move of camp. Since Keim took over as GM, the Cardinals have averaged 18 roster moves from camp-opening week through the first cut to 75. (Again, don’t forget that a new rule means there won’t be a cut to 75 this season, only the final cut, which will take teams from 90 to 53.) The roster, through performance and injuries, will be churned soon enough.


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From here, the question of adding vets

Posted by Darren Urban on May 3, 2017 – 4:53 pm

The Cardinals got through the draft and made their picks. No QB. No cornerback drafted early, but the defense got some potential impact playmakers. They collected 17 undrafted rookies, adding an Ironhead and a Gump and QB was served by a Knight, although we’ll see what that truly means. The Cardinals are in the middle of Phase 2 work — that goes on exclusively for another week — and then OTAs will start May 16 and the meat of the offseason work will commence.

There will be moves here and there. There will be tryout players at the rookie minicamp next week and a couple will inevitably be signed, at the cost of a couple of other players on the roster. That’s happened every year in the Bruce Arians era. There will have to be a decision made about what to do with Daryl Washington (no, that has not yet happened.) And then there is the idea of a Keim Time Sign, a pickup of a veteran by GM Steve Keim anytime between now and into training camp that could end up making the roster by the beginning of September. A quick handicapping of the positions he could look at:

Offensive line: The Cards signed Tony Bergstrom Wednesday. He’s likely a depth guy rather than someone who figures to have a chance to start should he make the team. He’s played center of late, and with Evan Boehm working as the first-string right guard, the Cards needed someone to back up A.Q. Shipley, if not compete with him.

Quarterback: The news was out that the Cards at least worked out Blaine Gabbert. We’ll see if that turns into anything. It’d give them an extra arm with experience, and with as much as they have talked about managing Carson Palmer’s practice load, maybe adding another QB right now makes sense.

Running back: I don’t know if the draft closed the door on Chris Johnson, but it seems like it might have. T.J. Logan is young, fresh legs, and they like what they have seen out of Elijhaa Penny. Kerwynn Williams has shown he can run the ball, and after all, David Johnson is David Johnson.

Cornerback: This is the big position. Justin Bethel figures to run with the first unit, at least to begin with. It’ll be hard to see where Budda Baker fits in early because the Washington spring quarter doesn’t end until early June (the final minicamp day is June 8) and he’ll miss most offseason work. The Cards have some mix-and-match possibilities, but right now, it’s Bethel or Brandon Williams in line to start opposite Patrick Peterson. Could the Cards pick up a veteran cornerback? I wouldn’t rule it out, although they may want to see how the offseason plays out a bit.


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John Ross topples CJ2K’s 40 record

Posted by Darren Urban on March 4, 2017 – 11:58 am

Chris Johnson has long been proud of his record 40-yard dash time at the Scouting combine. His 4.24 at the 2008 combine has been the benchmark that is annually talked about when the NFL and its potential draftees go to Indianapolis this time of year. University of Washington wide receiver John Ross turned lots of heads Saturday morning when he ran the 40 in 4.22 seconds, drawing an audible reaction in the media room here at the Convention Center.

It was unofficial at first. When it became the official time about 45 minutes later, Johnson was no longer the record-holder.

Ross, talking to the media Friday, said he had been “gifted with speed.” And he was asked specifically about breaking Johnson’s record.

“I’m going to try, I’m going to try,” said Ross, who noted his fastest time previous was 4.3. “I don’t want to say too much, but I’m going to try. I’ll give it a shot.”

Johnson, on Twitter, certainly noticed.

Johnson had a good run. (Pun intended.)

(Speaking of CJ2K, coach Bruce Arians said he hoped the Cardinals could re-sign Johnson, who is about to become a free agent again.)

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Martin IR move increases Fua chance

Posted by Darren Urban on November 18, 2016 – 10:48 am

When Bruce Arians was asked about bringing a player off injured reserve this week and whether he had made a decision yet on either running back Chris Johnson and safety Tyvon Branch, the coach said he had not yet, that it depended on the injury situation, and then he dropped in a name no one had ever considered — linebacker and special teamer Alani Fua.

Friday’s move to put linebacker and special teamer Gabe Martin on injured reserve with a knee injury is another reason why it might have been pertinent to wait on a pick.

Fua was probably always a possibility, given how much he could play on special teams and how well he can do it. Now, Martin’s injury impacts the who-to-bring-back thought process. For now, the Cardinals have promoted linebacker Zaviar Gooden from the practice squad to replace Martin. But as the Cardinals wait to see who they want off of IR — Fua, Johnson and Branch would all be eligible to play Dec. 4 against the Redskins, but as of now the Cardinals have not picked any of them to return to practice — it might be another IR move that makes the choice for them.

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Chris Johnson’s potential IR return

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2016 – 4:29 pm

Both running back Chris Johnson and safety Tyvon Branch went on injured reserve on Oct. 4, and a potential return date — for only one of them — is the Dec. 4 game against the Redskins. For his part, Johnson said he is “ahead of schedule” in his rehab from a groin injury (Branch suffered the same injury) and is optimistic about his availability to practice two weeks before that.

The new rule this season declares that while one player can return from injured reserve (it’s always been just one), teams do not have to declare which one is coming back. So both Johnson and Branch are in play. (In contrast, when the Cardinals put Johnson on IR last year with his knee injury, they said it was IR-to-return.) If chosen to return, players can return to practice after six weeks on the sideline, and play eight weeks later.

At the time Johnson and Branch went on the list, coach Bruce Arians said the decision on which one would return — and those two are the only real options on IR right now to come back — would not only be based on rate of recovery but also positional need.

As of now, running back actually would seem to be a greater need, with the number of touches starter David Johnson is receiving along with the depth in the secondary. While Tyrann Mathieu is still rounding into form, he isn’t leaving the lineup, and the other two safeties — Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger — are playing well. If the Cardinals can maneuver through the next four games (the bye is mixed in there), bringing Johnson back for a playoff push over the final five games makes sense.

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Kerwynn Williams, and juggling the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on October 11, 2016 – 10:09 am

The life of a player on the fringe of the roster is not easy. Kerwynn Williams knows this. The running back was re-signed by the Cardinals Tuesday. He had been signed a week ago after Chris Johnson went on IR, and then when the Cardinals needed an extra tight end because Darren Fells was injured — the Cards promoted practice squad tight end Hakeem Valles — Williams was the one they cut, just a few hours before kickoff against the 49ers. Now that Carson Palmer is just about healthy, the Cardinals found a roster spot for Williams again, letting go of quarterback Zac Dysert.

Williams lives a tough reality. He’s not a special teamer (he can return kickoffs, if needed) so he’s not a guy that makes sense to be active unless you need him to run the ball. He’s no longer practice-squad eligible. But he’s proven many times he can run the ball, and run it well. If he had been PS-eligible, he very well would have made it over Elijhaa Penny.

But with Johnson down (at least for now; there is a chance CJ2K will return this season) Williams makes a lot of sense as an extra runner. Andre Ellington will be David Johnson’s official backup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams finds a way to get some carries over the next few weeks.

That is, of course, assuming the Cardinals don’t need to find a roster spot again.

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Honey Badger loose in the secondary

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2016 – 3:17 pm

Chris Johnson’s move to injured reserve will attract more eyeballs — and certainly, CJ2K’s loss means something, even if the running game was always going to be powered by David Johnson — but the loss of Tyvon Branch may end up with greater impact. Here was a guy signed to improve speed in the secondary and to be used like Tyrann Mathieu, able to play the slot when Mathieu couldn’t, and perhaps allow some sneaky flip-flopping from time to time.

Now Branch is done, at least for a couple of months. The Cardinals are fortunate that Mathieu says he wants to be Mathieu again. The Cardinals could use a dose of Honey Badger. Bruce Arians said Mathieu isn’t the only player primed to play in that spot — the coach mentioned Marcus Cooper in particular — but “no one plays it like Ty when he thinks he’s ready.”

Does Arians think he’s ready? “If he feels he’s ready, he’s ready,” Arians said.

Not that this necessarily is the panacea for all the Cardinals’ ills. The Cards still need to make sure receivers do go running free every so often. And Mathieu has nothing to do with the slow offensive starts. But if there is anything to be drawn positive from an injury-filled week — we still await Carson Palmer’s status, but it still seems like Drew Stanton will end up starting at QB Thursday night — it’s the fact Mathieu is moving toward Honey Badgerness.

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Rams (and Palmer) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2016 – 7:20 pm

These visits by the Rams.

Two years ago, Carson Palmer was left with a torn ACL. Last year, the Rams delivered a painful loss at the time. Sunday, it was both — a painful loss (one that, given the circumstances is more hurtful than last year’s) and a Palmer injury. The Palmer injury hopefully isn’t nearly as bad, although his concussion very well could keep him out in Thursday’s game at San Francisco. The Cards need their quarterback, although the hole in 2016 got much deeper in a six-minute period Sunday. Drew Stanton awaits his chance to start for the first time since late in 2014.

Bruce Arians was definitely trying to stay positive postgame. For those looking for fire and brimstone, it’s not coming. Not publicly. Not right now. Arians clearly sees a steady message as important to his team.

“Stick together,” is what Arians told all the players, one-by-one, postgame. The players are going to try and do that — “There is nobody in here saying the season is over,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said — but a win soon is crucial to help the message take full root.

— We’ll see how Palmer goes through concussion protocol. If he’s iffy at all, you’d think the Cardinals will have to put practice squad QB Zac Dysert on the active roster.

— The Cardinals did a great job on Todd Gurley running. Unfortunately, he got loose a couple of times as a receiver, including gaining 8 on a third-and-8 on the Rams’ game-winning TD drive. A stop there, and a field goal, and the Cards might’ve been just fine.

— It can be traced to Justin Bethel getting poked and going down early on the play, but again, a special teams play — this time the Tavon Austin return — hurts the Cards bad.

— It was good to see Smokey Brown break out as a receiver. Funny, but even after playing little in the first half, Michael Floyd still ended up with seven targets, tied with Fitz for second most to Brown’s 16. Floyd played well after a very slow start. Drew Stanton admittedly tried to force that one into him late, and it cost the Cardinals their one decent chance at a late rally.

— The Rams are lucky. They got two 15-yard penalties on the Cards’ last possession. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have even been in position to heave a Hail Mary.

— Best game Chandler Jones has had with the Cardinals.

— Aaron Donald is a beast.

— Remember how the Cardinals hadn’t turned the ball over at all and were plus-5 after two games? They’ve turned the ball over 10 times the last two games, and despite that early cushion are now, amazingly, a minus-1 in turnovers on the season.

— The Cardinals ran the ball well. Chris Johnson looked good until he hurt his groin. David Johnson looked good but had a costly fumble. Right now, every silver lining seems to bring with it a hefty cloud.

— Short week. Practice Monday, flight to the Bay Area Wednesday, game Thursday night. There’s going to be another NFC West game before you know it — probably with Stanton behind center — and we’ll see how the Cardinals respond.

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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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