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A rough time for 49ers in the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on March 17, 2015 – 1:42 pm

In a division where keeping up with the Joneses is important just to have a chance at the playoffs — and goodness knows the Seahawks have been the Joneses for a couple of seasons now — the Cardinals feel like they have made strides to compete with Seattle. Their free agent class filled holes in the front seven of the defense and on the interior of the offensive line. More importantly, their quarterback is doing well in rehab. The Seahawks, meanwhile, added arguably the most dangerous tight end in the NFL. The Rams bolstered their defensive line with Nick Fairley and think they have upgraded at quarterback with Nick Foles (at least, he should be healthy enough to play.)

Then there are the 49ers, who have gone through one rough offseason, which started when they moved on from successful coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Niners got the shocking news young linebacker Chris Borland decided to leave the game instead of risking his long-term health to play. Borland was supposed to be the guy who filled in for Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, who retired because his oft-injured feet ended his hopes for a comeback. Defensive lineman Justin Smith likely will retire. Then they allowed multiple free agents to leave, like running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati (who came to Arizona), linebacker Dan Skuta and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. They probably won’t bring back Michael Crabtree either.

Now, the Niners have added some pieces. Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Darnell Dockett. Lions running back Reggie Bush (although he may be beyond his productive years.) But the way things have gone, it’ll be tough for the 49ers to right the decline they went through in 2014. That comes with the QB caveat all teams have — if Colin Kaepernick emerges as a star, that covers most issues.

While it could be considered the “offseason from hell,” the Cardinals did have one of recent vintage that they could put up in any argument. It’s tough to forget the offseason after 2009. In case you have forgotten, a refresher: quarterback Kurt Warner retired, safety Antrel Rolle was released for cap reasons (and subsequently signed with the Giants), linebacker Karlos Dansby left as a free agent and Anquan Boldin was traded. All were still playing at high/Pro Bowl levels. Those were a gut punch of transactions that eventually took out a coaching staff and brought the Cardinals to the Bruce Arians/Steve Keim era.

John Brown, Leon McFadden

 


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Warner to help … Kaepernick

Posted by Darren Urban on January 7, 2015 – 8:20 am

It’s still an unknown who the 49ers head coach will be post-Harbaugh, but we do know now who will be coaching struggling quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the short-term. And it’s … Kurt Warner.

The former Cardinals quarterback will be tutoring Kaepernick here in the Valley, no less, as Niners beat guy Matt Barrows reported. it’ll be at EXOS, formerly Athletes Performance Institute. It’s not altogether odd, seeing that Warner can help a bit without a) leaving home and b) getting too deep into coaching. Ever since Warner retired I’ve gotten hit with questions from fans of why Warner wouldn’t be asked to join the coaching staff, but Warner never had any interest in putting in the hours required to be an NFL coach. He’s got more important things to do in his life with his charities and his family, and coaching eats up far too much time. This scenario is much more reasonable.

Of course, it also means Warner is trying to help improve the quarterback of a Cardinals’ rival. So that could sting down the road. Barrows writes that Warner (and former journeyman pro QB Dennis Gile) won’t try and fix Kaepernick. Instead, “Warner will be on hand a few days each week to work with Kaepernick on film study, charting plays (so-called ‘board work’), seven-on-seven drills and other mental aspects of the game.”

UPDATE: Warner talked about the offer on the Tiki and Tierney Show Thursday morning on CBS Radio, acknowledging he has heard from fans of both the Cardinals and Rams disappointed he is helping a 49ers quarterback.

“I put the offer out there to a lot of young guys and Colin is the first one that really reached out and said, ‘If you have a little bit of time for me, I’d love to work together,’” Warner said. “People can say what they want. I’m more about helping that young man become all he can be. Do I want the Cardinals to win games? Of course I do. Do I want the Rams to win? Yeah. But I want all these guys to push that envelope and if I can help in any way, I’m happy to do it.”


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Fitzgerald ad gets help from Thomas, Lindley

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2014 – 3:05 pm

So the latest big-time ad featuring Larry Fitzgerald came out recently, a pretty cool concept of Fitz catching passes one-handed from Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Drew Brees in FitzNFriendsUSEan empty University of Phoenix Stadium (while he used the other hand to buy jerseys, through Visa, on his phone. It was, after all, a commercial.) It was through the magic of TV however. Luck, Kaepernick and Brees weren’t there — except Luck and Kaepernick were, sort of, thanks to ex-Cardinal QB Ryan Lindley and the man who beat him out for a roster spot, Logan Thomas.

Fitzgerald enlisted the help of his teammates (the Brees part, Fitzgerald said, was done by an arena league quarterback.) The shoot was during one of the Cardinals’ off days in training camp, and Thomas estimated it was a seven-hour day, with four of those spent on and off with Andrew Luck Lindley and Colin Kaepernick Thomas flinging a total of about 300 passes.

“We just had to keep throwing to the same hand,” Thomas said. “But it was fun.”

Thomas and Lindley each were dressed as their Pro Bowl alter egos. Thomas even got his arm treated to simulate the tattoos on Kaepernick’s arm. At the time, Lindley was sporting a full beard and looked a lot like Luck (no word, in hindsight, if Lindley grew the beard just for the part.) It’s only too bad there isn’t a picture out there of the three of them in uniform to commemorate the moment. Ask and you shall receive, as you can see.

Still, “anything to help a teammate,” Thomas said with a smile. “You get to see the personality, especially for Fitz. If it becomes my turn down the road (for a commercial), that would be cool.”


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Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on September 19, 2014 – 4:19 pm

What a week.

What a month, really, or six weeks, whatever the timeframe upon which you want to make the prism to look through. The Cardinals have encountered turbulence for sure, and it just doesn’t seem like that seat belt light is ever gonna go off so they can walk about the cabin. That bye week after this 49ers game looks so inviting, and maybe the football gods do know what’s what when that schedule comes out.

Bruce Arians thought back Friday to his 2010 season with the Steelers, when QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended to start the season and Byron Leftwich broke his leg in preseason and third-stringer Dennis Dixon got hurt and Charlie Batch still got Pittsburgh off to a 3-1 start. The Steelers made the Super Bowl that year (although they lost to Green Bay.) The Cardinals can take that to heart.

The bumps aren’t over yet, either. “It’s only Week 3,” Arians said. “Something’s coming.”

Goodness, after Washington and Minter and Cooper and Dockett and Abraham and Palmer and Dwyer and now Abraham again, let’s hope not.

There just happens to be a pretty important football game Sunday.

— Drew Stanton gets the start (and no, I don’t think Carson Palmer will be healthy enough to be his backup.) It’s a big deal for Stanton. The Giants are, well, the Giants. The 49ers are a different beast, which Arians’ tone hinted toward Friday when he was asked if Stanton should be better this week. Stanton can’t turn the ball over, like he was able to do in New York.

— The fact tight end Vernon Davis, if he plays, will be gimpy at best is huge news for the Cardinals. Davis has done very well against this team. It’s a plus in the Cards’ corner if he’s not 100 percent.

— It’ll be interesting to see how the Cardinals cover the 49ers, and how much Patrick Peterson is on Michael Crabtree. Crabtree has had the upper hand thus far in the matchup, but I just have a gut feeling Peterson is going to have a good game.

— Peterson was not fined for his contact with an official in New York. Giants linebacker Jameel McClain was fined $8,268 for his hit on Stanton after the whistle had been blown for a Cardinals’ delay of game penalty.

— Many have complained about punter Drew Butler on his two blocked punts, even though Arians has reiterated they were on blockers Deone Bucannon and Robert Hughes. Now that Butler is back again with Dave Zastudil hurting, Arians said today Butler has a “real quick two-step release.” Again, noted it was the protection failures that went into the punt blocks.

— Logan Thomas did his best Colin Kaepernick impression this week for the scout team. “He’s not Kap, but he’s close with athletic ability and arm strength,” Arians said. The Cards hope so. Containing Kaepernick will go a long way in determining if the Cards can win.

— With Andre Ellington set to see cousin Bruce Ellington – a Niners receiver – Sunday, here’s a link to Kyle Odegard’s story on the two, from around the combine.

— Newcomer Jalen Parmele “probably” will slide into Jonathan Dwyer’s role as the short-yardage and goal-line back, Arians said. Stepfan Taylor isn’t that guy. Parmele is bigger than Taylor, but with Ellington’s talent, you have to wonder how much more Taylor will ever do here, or if he just will stay in the packages that they use him in now.

— Ellington is probable. The foot has definitely gotten better. And they will need him to play well. You figure the passing game will likely have a ceiling with the backup QB in the game.

— The Cardinals have been spectacular in a pair of rallies, outscoring opponents 27-0 in the fourth quarter. The 49ers have gotten out to fast starts and fizzled down the stretch, and last week’s second half cost them a win. The Cards need to start a little faster, or at least slow San Francisco. Last year’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium was a game in which the Cards had to rally, before losing late.

— Here’s hoping the Cardinals’ fans show up in force and, as Arians has said, kept their tickets. The Cards will need that home-field advantage Sunday and it’d be a shame if too many tickets were in the hands of Niner fans.

— If you are going to the stadium, don’t forget the Cardinals will be wearing black.

On to the game.

PPCrabblogUSE


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The ’11 draft class, and that Peterson extension

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2014 – 3:17 pm

Under the new collective bargaining agreement put together in 2011, draft picks must be in the league three years before they can negotiate a contract extension. That means that 2011 class — which features Patrick Peterson, Cam Newton, Von Miller, A.J.Green, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn, among others — are all now eligible for new contracts, and the assumption has long been that many of those will happen. Certainly that has been a subject of speculation with Peterson. The Cardinals want to keep Peterson long term (of course) and it was not a coincidence that Peterson recently changed agents with that opportunity now looming.

But, as usual when it comes to big-money deals, none of this is a simple process. Jason Cole wrote an interesting piece about the situation of the 2011 draft class (he never touched on Peterson, specifically). In it, he talked to 10 GMs and/or cap specialists, and all expected that instead of a long-term extension this year that teams will opt to invoke the fifth-year option on each contract. Every first-round contract now as a fifth-year team option that, inevitably, will be a more affordable (and non-guaranteed) salary. In the case of 2011 picks, all are locked up through 2014 and then the team can invoke a 2015 year. This doesn’t even include the option to franchise tag a player for 2016.

(Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick are in similar situations as a fifth- and second-round picks in 2011, except as non-first-rounders, teams do not have a fifth-year option on those players. It actually gives non-first-rounders more leverage this offseason.)

In short, there isn’t an incredible urgency to extend one of those 2011 contracts now, other than the fact some of those 2011 draft picks probably won’t be thrilled they wouldn’t be extended right away given the level of play many of them have reached already. It will make for an interesting offseason when it comes to those players — including Peterson.

PPcontractblogUSE


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The fine line of finding a quarterback

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2014 – 11:39 am

So if you are the Cincinnati Bengals, what are you thinking about with Andy Dalton? And what does it say about “finding” your long-term quarterback?

These questions are not easily answered. The Cardinals have been looking for their “long-term” quarterback since, well, since they moved to Arizona. There were the Kurt Warner years, but the time where Warner was both the unquestioned and winning (a key adjective) quarterback for this franchise was less than three seasons: A few games into the 2007 season through 2009. Carson Palmer has come along, and was 10-6 in his first season, and likely is the Cards’ starter in 2014, but how long does he have?

Again, finding the young replacement isn’t simple. Look at Dalton. He has won nine, 10 and 11 games in his three seasons in Cincinnati. The Bengals have made the playoffs every single season. It’s a foundation many teams — even the Cards — would love to have with a quarterback after he was drafted. He threw for almost 4,300 yards this season and already has 80 TD passes in his young career. It’s the definition of finding a long-term guy … right?

Yet the Bengals have lost all three playoff games Dalton has quarterbacked, and he has not played well in any of them. He is, not surprisingly, getting hammered about it again and there are some who think the Bengals should look elsewhere. Now, there are QB-needy teams across the league who would probably love to have Dalton. Yet his situation underscores the minefield that is filling that position.

Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton have worked well. It looks like Colin Kaepernick has too (although I think he still tends to be more up and down than you’d like at this early stage) and Nick Foles flourished in Chip Kelly’s offense. Side note, you look at the playoff teams and the winners and it drives home the point this league is about good quarterback play.

Is Matthew Stafford the answer, even with all his gaudy stats? (Ken Whisenhunt may be hired soon to find out.) Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were not. Sam Bradford? It’s no wonder Steve Keim says he has to fall in love with a QB to want to draft him, because let’s face it, if you do draft one early, you are married to him for a few years to see if he works out.

And, in the case of someone like Dalton, you still may be wondering if he is working out even when it seems like he is.

DaltonBlogUSE


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Palmer pitching, PP catching, and pads

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2013 – 5:19 pm

The first padded practice of training camp made for some interesting stuff to digest:

— It only happened a couple of times, but quarterback Carson Palmer (and backup Drew Stanton, for that matter), ran the read-option in 11-on-11. Both times Palmer ran it — once to each side — he ended up pitching it to wide receiver Andre Roberts. It doesn’t exactly look like Colin Kaepernick and I’m not sure it’s going to make it all the way into an actual game that counts. But it gives the defense something to think about in a season they will certainly see it (from Kaepernick and others) and it gives other teams at least a slight pause when this seemingly crazy notion gets out there.

— Speaking of offensive twists, there was Patrick Peterson (below) quickly throwing on a white tank top over his red defensive jersey (think a practice jersey in basketball) to jump in on offense at a moment’s notice. His first play was a straight go route down the sideline. The Ryan Lindley bomb was broken up by fellow cornerback Javier Arenas. Peterson shook his head about it after.

“I told Ryan, ‘When number 21 is out there, make him run,’ ” Peterson said. “I don’t want to have to try and turn around and have to catch the ball. I have enough speed I’m pretty comfortable, anywhere you throw the ball, I’m going to go get it.”

Unlike the Palmer option, I do expect such plays for Peterson to be in the playbook. I’m sure Patrick won’t mind.

— Don’t expect the same from Tyrann Mathieu though. Mathieu was asked if he too could be an offensive threat. “I’m not an offensive weapon,” he said. “I’m a defensive guy who looks good with the ball in his hands.”

— The injury list got a little longer for the Cardinals Sunday, in part because they are now hitting. WR Robert Gill (hamstring) and TE Alex Gottlieb (hamstring) were already sitting out. LB Daryl Washington (neck spasm) was sitting out for the first time, and then G Daryn Colledge (lower right leg) and RB Ryan Williams (right leg/knee) came out during practice. Williams, who had ice on his right knee for a while, had discarded the ice by the end of practice and was standing watching his teammates, a good sign it probably isn’t serious. TE Jeff King was also sitting out, possibly a nod to taking it easy early in camp after coming off his own knee rehab.


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Fitz too has hometown rooting interests

Posted by Darren Urban on July 16, 2013 – 1:08 pm

Suddenly, it causes a stir when players have some connection to a team that isn’t their own. When Colin Kaepernick wore a Dolphins hat — presumably for the look, since he isn’t from that part of the country — it probably shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. (Although he didn’t handle it very well and the defiant response forced a lingering backlash). Then Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who is from Atlanta, mentions he grew up rooting for the Falcons and still likes to see them do well when he isn’t playing them.

That too seemed to gain headlines. As if there was something, if not wrong with it, too weird about it. All I could think about was Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitz, if you have been paying attention, has said many times how he remained a Minnesota Vikings fan given where he was raised and how he was a ballboy for the franchise. Last year, I went to Minnesota to talk to Fitz specifically about being a Minnesota boy and he made it plain then too.

“I grew up a Vikings fan and I would be lying to you if I didn’t say I was still a Vikings fan,” Fitzgerald said then. “Growing up in Minnesota it’s second nature. I still pull for them when I’m not playing them. A lot of my closest friends in the NFL are Vikings. I’m close with (Everson) Griffen, Jared Allen, Phil (Loadholt), Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph. You pull for your friends.”

I didn’t think anything of it. It made sense to me, as a matter of fact. It doesn’t mean Fitz wants to beat the Vikings any less when the Cardinals play them (or that Newton, battling the Falcons within the same division, doesn’t want to sweep Atlanta). If memory serves, often you want to beat your brother/friends more. You can see the frustration on Fitz’s face when the Cards lose and it has always seemed moreso when the Vikings beat him. He wants to topple the hometown team, to talk a little trash to his Minnesota guys back home.

Now, would Fitz slide a Vikings cap on? No. He’s smart enough to not do that. But NFL players who grew up rooting for teams that aren’t their own? You’re silly if you don’t realize that — and that they won’t necessarily turn it off once they get to the league. It doesn’t mean they are trying any less to beat those teams.


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Thoughts on a schedule

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2013 – 6:31 pm

So here are some quick thoughts on the Cardinals’ schedule, for what they are worth. No one knows exactly what will happen between now and when the games will be played and so much can change. Nevertheless, this is what we do, so we press on …

— What smacks me in the face first is the back-to-back games against the 49ers — in San Francisco — and the Seahawks just four days later for their NFL Network game. That’s in October (13 and 17). Those teams aren’t easy with which to deal, and to have them so close together is tough. I guess, with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson with similar games (I know Wilson doesn’t run as much as Kaepernick), the defense will be in the right frame of mind. Todd Bowles, are you ready?

— Opening in St. Louis isn’t a bad place to start. The Cards have had a ton of success there, winning seven straight before last year. These aren’t the 2009 Rams, but they aren’t the Niners and Seahawks either.

— Offenses with which the Cards must deal without suspended linebacker Daryl Washington: Rams, Lions, Saints, Buccaneers. All in all, not the worst thing.

— A bye at exactly the midway point of the season.

— The Bruce Arians-faces-his-former-Colts-team game comes Nov. 24. Will be very interesting to see where the Cards are at that point — we will be long past the storybook of the Colts season last year — and, for that matter, where the Colts stand.

— I didn’t think weather would be a big deal, but it could be chilly in Philly (Dec. 1) and Tennessee (Dec. 15). And perhaps Seattle (Dec. 22) for that matter.

— It did catch my eye that the preseason Dallas game is at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. I prefer that rather than night preseason games.

— A trip to Raymond James Stadium Sept. 29. Let’s see, the last time the Cards were there


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Reading the options of the future of offense

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2013 – 10:48 am

The Super Bowl run-up this week — on both TV and in print — will be filled with a handful of the obvious stories this week: The last game for Ray Lewis, the Harbaugh brothers, and, with the 49ers becoming explosive on offense with new quarterback Colin Kaepernick, there will be plenty written and said about the read-option offense.

The conventional wisdom has long been that running quarterbacks will have a hard time having long-term success in the NFL. Defenders are faster and stronger in the pros than college. The chances of a quarterback getting hurt — and the chances that a coach wants to make sure his quarterback doesn’t get hurt — are high. Of course, that all got turned on its head this season, with Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson (to a lesser degree) all making the read-option incredibly dangerous to opposing defenses.

Where does it go from here?

It’s impossible to know for sure. I do know that defensive coordinators are going to have an entire offseason to prepare to defend it. If you are Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who could/will see some version of it up to seven times in 2013 — the Niners twice, the Seahawks twice, the Panthers (Cam Newton), Titans (Jake Locker) and Eagles (with new coach Chip Kelly) — you know the Cards are going to study the strengths and weaknesses carefully. There have been comparisons made to the Wildcat offense, and that version became a lot less effective the year after it hit the scene hard.

Then again, the Wildcat was done in a situation where the main ballhandler wasn’t a quarterback. The threat of the pass was only that, a threat. It wasn’t normal. That’s what makes the read-option so difficult, because the quarterback could instead fade for a quick throw. That’s why Kaepernick and Griffin and Wilson have been so good. It’s not because they run the ball well — although they do do that — but because they are accurate passers and can make defenses pay through conventional ways too. (In other words, Tim Tebow they are not.) As more and more college quarterbacks find ways to do both, it will inevitably find its way into the pro game.

Injury concerns are legitimate. The Redskins understand this. The more hits a QB takes, the more chance he gets hurt. Simple math. Maybe the success can be sustained on a football level, but on a player level, the quarterback won’t last as long. Or maybe the QB has to morph after a few years, like Michael Jordan went from going to the hoop every time into one of the best jump shooters. Pocket passers aren’t going away. It’s really about what the talent is coming from colleges and what coaches are willing to do to adapt. I doubt every team suddenly starts running the read-option, but I don’t see it going away.

readOptionblogUSE


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