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Breaking down the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2012 – 4:21 pm

Here was a key line from coach Ken Whisenhunt’s season-ending press conference after the 2010 season: “As far as personnel change, there’s going to be change. When you go 5-11, there are going to be changes that are made. It has to be that way.”

Monday, Whisenhunt’s team still hadn’t made the playoffs, but it was three games better. Thus: “You don’t anticipate a lot of changes.”

There will be some of course. That’s inevitable. Some players will be determined replaceable. Some will be wanted back, but at the right price, which always leaves the door open for them eventually leaving. And there is always the chance an unexpectedly good player will come available that simply has to be had, even if there isn’t necessarily a place for him to immediately play.

If there is one thing Whisenhunt has repeated over and over and over in his five seasons, it’s that every offseason “we are always looking to improve.”

Free agency and the draft comes later (free agency is first, March 13, a Tuesday, at 2 p.m. Arizona time). First, the Cardinals coaches – after undergoing an evaluation process themselves – have to sort through the Cardinals’ roster. Not that they need it, but for your viewing pleasure, here is my annual breakdown of the Cards’ roster and what each individual’s contract status is as of today.

The top priority is re-signing DE Calais Campbell. I have no idea if anything is close. I know they’ve been talking, I haven’t heard anyone be pessimistic and Whisenhunt himself said he didn’t want to talk about it Monday because he didn’t want to jinx anything – and could that be a hint, since you don’t worry about jinxing something that won’t happen, right? Either way, Campbell will be back because they will franchise him if they must.

Other keys players to watch, in my opinion: DB Richard Marshall, of course, but the price will have to work both ways. The Cards have a load of DBs. Not sure exactly how they feel about A.J. Jefferson right now, but defensive coordinator Ray Horton sure likes Marshall. I’d think they’d want him to return. What about good locker room guys and defensive veterans like LB Clark Haggans and DE Vonnie Holliday? Or WR Early Doucet? The Cards also have all three specialists – K Jay Feely, P Dave Zastudil and long snapper Mike Leach – who have expired contracts.

This is what was missing last offseason. Oh, we had the questions in January, we just didn’t have the answers until late July. I love those who still ask what I do in the offseason – really, given the interest, there is no offseason. It’s already time to talk the 2012 season.


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Second-half storylines

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2011 – 9:52 am

OK, so the Cards aren’t to the second-half of the season yet, but the bye not only gives the team a chance to recalibrate where it is heading into the rest of the year but also a chance to assess what will fall under the microscope for the balance of 2011.

The play of Kevin Kolb: Obviously the Cards have made a long-term commitment to the QB. Long-term is relative in the NFL, but he’s so early in his tenure he isn’t (and shouldn’t be) going anywhere anytime soon. That said, NFL teams lean on their quarterbacks. He doesn’t have to be Tom Brady, but the Cards were counting on more.

How Beanie’s year unfolds: RB Beanie Wells has been, thus far, the back everyone hoped he would be when he was drafted. If he can continue that, it’d be a major step forward offensively.

Tackling the tackles: Who will be the tackles? Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges? Brandon Keith? Kent Somers broke down why Brown probably won’t be around next season. Looking around the league, there are a lot of teams hurting at the position (the Steelers, who visit Sunday, among them). Clearly, though — and obviously, this isn’t out of the box thinking — the Cards have to get more consistency out there.

The linebacker transition: The Cards are still trying to find a way to make Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield work on defense, instead of riding veterans Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. This one may just end up dictated by how the wins and losses play out. If the season further gets away from the Cards — and having the 49ers at 5-1 already doesn’t help — you’d think youth will be served.

Clearly, there will be other spots to watch and evaluate (which is good, since I still need subjects to write about the rest of the season). Given the first outcome against Seattle earlier this season, I am also very curious how the Cards play in the five games remaining against the NFC West. And how the team performs on the road — where they will be for four of five weeks following the Pittsburgh game Sunday.


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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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Marshall’s hit was clean

Posted by Darren Urban on September 14, 2011 – 5:17 pm

Well, coach Ken Whisenhunt was looking for clarification on the penalty flag thrown on cornerback Richard Marshall — the one play in which Marshall was called for unnecessary roughness when he hit quarterback Cam Newton shoulder-to-shoulder, forcing a throw that linebacker Daryl Washington intercepted. Not only did the Cards lose the turnover, but a couple plays later, Newton threw a touchdown pass to Steve Smith for a 14-7 halftime lead.

Marshall got the clarification. “NFL looked at my hit on cam newton from Sundays game and said it was legal. Happy to say I’m not getting fined, thanks” Marshall tweeted.

Something tells me linebacker Clark Haggans isn’t going to be fined for inadvertently hitting Newton’s facemask in the fourth quarter either, a play that helped set up the Panthers’ potential game-tying touchdown (that the Cards ended up stopping anyway).

At least Marshall got Newton at a more important time later (pictured below): The sack — when Newton had 40 yards of running room — that forced the punt Patrick Peterson returned for the game-winning score.

– Speaking of Twitter news, Rams/NFL reporter Howard Balzer tweeted that the Cards tried out former Rams receiver Donnie Avery this week (which goes with the Jaymar Johnson tryout news). As I said before, the Cards, like a lot of teams, are going to kick the tires on potential upgrades. Doesn’t mean they will sign them. With Avery, he’s coming off major knee surgery and he was cut by a receiver-hungry team like the Rams. That would give me caution.

– General manager Rod Graves gave a talk to ASU students looking to get into the sports business field.


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Thursday before the Packers (with a Fitz contract update)

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2011 – 12:04 pm

Here we are in Titletown, and what do you know, the team that plays here just won a title – and they haven’t played a home game since then. Now the Cards come to visit.

The big “news” today is Jim Trotter’s report about Larry Fitzgerald’s contract talks. Fitz says he won’t talk extension after Sept. 4, but at the same time an agreement is “not too far away.” Trotter says on his own he believes a deal will get done, which I have said all along. Since he talked to Fitz for a good 45 minutes the other day, my guess is Trotter got a good vibe (or something more concrete) from Fitzgerald.

In the meantime  …

– It will be interesting to see how the Cards use the pass rushers. Will rookie Sam Acho get some snaps on the right side? How much do they play O’Brien Schofield, knowing he needs as many reps as possible? Coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week that while he wants vets Joey Porter and Clark Haggans to play – the defense is “new” for them too – they don’t need to play as much.

– No way to know how banged up the Cards are right now, but guard Pork Chop Womack did come out of practice yesterday and had his right shoulder wrapped briefly. I expect Deuce Lutui to play regardless even with his conditioning issues, but if Womack can’t go, it probably makes it more important. As was guessed to start camp, Lutui’s story will be one of the main ones to watch.

– Whisenhunt talked about all the back-fade routes the Packers like to run and how it’s high stress on cornerbacks. It’s a good test, especially when seeing where rookie Patrick Peterson is right now in his development.

– And, this time is as good as any, here are a few of the position battles at which you can look (sticking mostly to starting jobs right now, unless something really jumps out at me):

WR – Obviously Fitz will start. Someone asked me if there was a way Early Doucet (pictured below) could beat out Andre Roberts. I don’t think there is going to be one true set No. 2. Roberts is going to get his playing time, but there will be some mixing-and-matching, I’d expect.

TE – Todd Heap and Jeff King are both going to play quite a bit, and I won’t be surprised if the starting lineup a few times includes two tight ends. But King is a very good blocker, and since that is not Heap’s strong suit, don’t be shocked if King gets this nod some of the time.

RT – I still expect Brandon Keith to be the guy here. But don’t underestimate Jeremy Bridges.

RG – Lutui can still make this quite an interesting battle between he and Rex Hadnot. But Hadnot doesn’t have too much to fear if Lutui can’t get his weight/conditioning in order.

ILB – I believe Daryl Washington will start. Paris Lenon is a good soldier who is solid and versatile. Can Stewart Bradley do enough to surpass him on the depth chart? I could see Lenon in a reserve role, able to fill in for both Washington and Bradley. It may be a moot point anyway, since I could see them using all three quite a bit.

CB –Peterson vs. Greg Toler vs. A.J. Jefferson vs. Richard Marshall. In terms of sheer numbers and lack of absolute locks, this position has to be sorted out. Toler and Jefferson remain with the first unit, but to see Peterson and Marshall there to start the season makes sense. So does, quite frankly, any combination of the four. This is why they make preseason, for  battles like this.

There are other end-of-the-roster issues to figure out, but like every year, the top 53 probably already has 45 or 46 locks before camp even begins. That may be more true this year than any other, because the chances of an undrafted guy doing enough to make anything more than the practice squad seems slim without an offseason.


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A night at Coconino

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2011 – 11:31 pm

The Cardinals held their one night practice of camp at Coconino High School. It was a little different than the ones of last season. With only a few days before the next preseason game, coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t do a live goal line session at the end. In fact, there was no tackling. The practice ended with a series of plays starting at the 10-yard line with first-and-goal, but it was tough to tell exactly what would have happened — linebacker Clark Haggans was particularly vocal in protesting where the ball was spotted.

– Linebacker Joey Porter was sitting out on a veteran’s day off. O’Brien Schofield is next on the depth chart behind Porter at ROLB, but it was rookie Sam Acho who was in Porter’s place Tuesday night. Interesting. Schofield is the guy who needs to make the big step forward as pass rusher this season. Although it might have been just to balance out the position — with Will Davis a LOLB, the Cards could go Acho-Schofield at ROLB and Haggans-Davis at LOLB.

– Tight end Stephen Spach (calf) and offensive lineman D.J. Young (knee) were also sitting out. So too was guard Deuce Lutui, for what I would expect to be a continuing conditioning issue.

– Cornerback Greg Toler made a nice interception in front of Larry Fitzgerald at the goal line, ripping the ball away from Fitz. (Fitz did make a spectacular Willie Mays-style over-the-head grab earlier in the practice, but really, that’s no surprise, not the way he makes the spectacular routine.)

– Wide receiver Isaiah Williams made a fantastic touchdown catch from John Skelton, making the grab in the back of the end zone just over the outstretched hand of cornerback Richard Marshall. Williams, who scored the game-winning touchdown in Oakland, has looked good in camp — one of many receivers that have shown well.

– One of those receivers, rookie DeMarco Sampson, pulled down a deep pass early in the practice despite good coverage by cornerback Marshay Green. Sampson needs to continue his work but he’s got a real shot to make this roster.


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No depth chart surprises

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2011 – 3:36 pm

The Cardinals have released their first official depth chart of the preseason, and it contains no real surprises, especially early on in the process. Many veterans who are battling to keep starting jobs got the first nod.

Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are the starting outside linebackers. Rex Hadnot is first-team right guard above Deuce Lutui. Five rookies are running second-team: CB Patrick Peterson (behind A.J. Jefferson), RB Ryan Williams (behind Beanie), LB Sam Acho (behind Haggans), NT David Carter (behind Dan Williams) and fullback Anthony Sherman (behind Reagan Maui’a). Interestingly, Richard Marshall is listed as the third-team cornerback behind Greg Toler and Michael Adams, but again, this depth chart is going to be very fluid right now and I expect more than a few changes by the time this team gets to the end of the month and/or the regular-season opener.

At lunch today, coach Ken Whisenhunt joked that, in terms of the depth chart, “Everybody is in a battle for every spot (but) I’m leaning a little bit more toward Kevin right now after the way it’s gone, and Larry is probably pretty straight too. But there are a lot of positions up for grabs.”

Kevin and Larry are Kolb and Fitz, obviously. Let everyone else fall where they may.


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Cards finally nab pass rusher in Acho

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2011 – 9:25 am

The Cardinals begin the final day of the draft by getting a pass rusher they needed in Texas linebacker Sam Acho in the fourth round. At 6-foot-1 and 260 pounds, Acho is going to have a transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4, but as a senior, he had nine sacks, five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He was also a three-time all-academic selection in the Big 12.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said he is a ‘tweener, not quite an OLB but not quite a DE. But with O’Brien Schofield and Will Davis already around (along with veterans Clark Haggans and Joey Porter for now), Acho could be a pass rusher only at first until he is ready for something bigger.

Acho said he actually played OLB the first two years of college before moving to defensive end, so he expects to be able to make the transition. Interestingly, he said he had no specific contact with the Cardinals before the draft, so he was a little surprised. But Acho — who comes across as smart as his resume indicates — clearly is happy to be coming to Arizona.


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Fitz gets the guys together

Posted by Darren Urban on April 12, 2011 – 3:04 pm

A story today from Kent Somers about how Larry Fitzgerald organized a workout today for 20 Cards over at Arizona State University. Kent doesn’t list everyone involved, but among those there were Rex Hadnot, Tim Hightower, Lyle Sendlein, Clark Haggans, Max Hall and John Skelton. With no way to come to the facility now in lieu of the lockout, this was always a possibility. The day after the season, Sendlein even talked about the need to work on their own.

Kent notes only eight guys were there Monday. Giving a “lineup” of who is there and who isn’t is always dicey. These things are even more voluntary than the regular “voluntary” workouts of an offseason. (Side note: I remember one year covering the team for the East Valley Tribune when I did a story on the opening of voluntary conditioning work and got specific about a few guys who were there and a few guys who were not. I noted big tackle Leonard Davis wasn’t there. The next day, Davis was on the field when I went outside to make a phone call. “I’m here, Darren,” Davis yelled out. “I’m here Darren.” He wasn’t mad. I don’t think. But he made his point.)

Always good to see some of the players be willing to do such things. Even better to see Fitz spearheading it. (Read Kent’s piece for a few Fitz quotes). Of course, I’d love for labor peace to come sooner rather than later, so I could write some of these stories myself. For now, though, it’s important. We still could see a lot of Skelton-to-Fitzgerald this season. Better to have them work on that timing now.


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More from Michael Bidwill

Posted by Darren Urban on March 22, 2011 – 10:57 am

It’s not as if team president Michael Bidwill has been hiding or trying to stay in the background of late, but I wanted to touch on a couple of the comments Bidwill made today during an interview Monday night on Sirius NFL Radio.

Bidwill said the Cards, including the coaches, were supportive of the rules to change kickoffs (the rule, passed this morning, moves the kickoffs back to the 35-yard line from the 30 but keeps touchbacks at the 20-yard line). He said the feel of these meetings during a lockout were “dialed down from the norm” compared to the usual owners’ meetings in March.

As for a couple of other specific comments, not that they are breaking news, but perhaps underscore some of the things that have been talked about on the blog:

– Asked about the Cards need on the defensive side of the ball, Bidwill said “the pass rush is critical. We’re a 3-4 defense. Our outside linebackers are a little bit older, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. We probably need to get a little bit of youth in there.”

– As for the contract of Larry Fitzgerald, “He’s been very clear that he wants to be a Cardinal for life. We’ve been very clear that we want to take the necessary steps to make sure that happens. We’ll get it done. I’m confident of that.”


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