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Thursday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2016 – 2:26 pm

The work in San Diego is almost over. The Cardinals have their preseason game against the Chargers Friday night, and to be frank, the attention has shifted from what the team might do this week and to what Bruce Arians might do after his health issues. The reality is that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was already set to call plays, and Arians had joked previously that he doesn’t have much to do during a game in those cases anyway. Still, all eyes are going to be on B.A. That’s only natural.

— Because of Arians’ illness, there wasn’t much discussed about the how the game will play out in terms of snap distribution, but the first units will probably get a chunk of the first quarter you’d figure. It always depends on how they perform, but maybe two or three series, depending on the number of plays. I’d expect this game to be a lot more Drew Stanton at QB, as Carson Palmer’s big third preseason game looms and the fourth game likely will be all Matt Barkley and Jake Coker.

— Another big game for CB Brandon Williams. Also curious to see what veteran Mike Jenkins can do now that he’s back on the field, albeit with a cast.

— Another guy to watch is DT Corey Peters, who returns to a game for the first time since blowing out his Achilles after just one preseason game in 2015.

— Not only were there no fights during the two practices between the Cards and Chargers, no situation really ever came close as far as I could tell. Don’t know if it was because Arians and Chargers coach Mike McCoy made such a big deal about no fights or if the Arians situation changed how practice was approached. Question is, does Friday night get chippy at all?

— Arians has said there are four inside linebackers fighting for one spot, which includes Chargers castoff Donald Butler. But you figure the Cards are going to have Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter in there. I’m guessing Chris Clemons, who has been working behind Bucannon, likely is in. So that would leave Butler vs. Alani Fua vs. Gabe Martin vs. Lamar Louis. So again, a battle to watch.

— One more week of training camp to go. Four more open practices.

ThursBeforeCharegers


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Camp “grind” and needing two bars

Posted by Darren Urban on August 4, 2016 – 12:17 pm

Last week, Larry Fitzgerald noted that Bruce Arians doesn’t like to use the word “grind” when it comes to training camp. The coach made it obvious why today.

“It’s not a grind,” Arians said. “How can it be a grind when it’s one practice (a day) in air conditioning, and you stay in a five-star hotel. That ain’t a grind. A grind is two practices (a day), three hours, both in pads, in a (expletive) dorm and camp is off somewhere in the middle of nowhere. That’s a grind. Two bars, nowhere to go.”

The significance of two bars?

“One for the players, one for the coaches,” Arians quipped.

— The Cards seem to have gotten good news on a pair of injuries. LB Alani Fua (knee) doesn’t need surgery and, if you can call it good news, DT Corey Peters only has plantar fasciitis. That could still sideline him a little bit — it’s up in the air right now — but at least he didn’t injure again his Achilles, which was an immediate fear.

— Arians updated some of the long-term injuries: S Tyrann Mathieu (knee) and DT Frostee Rucker (foot) are out “probably two weeks,” DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle), CB Justin Bethel (foot) and CB Elie Bouka (hamstring) are probably less than two.

— WR Larry Fitzgerald will get his veterans day off today. He was supposed to be off Tuesday but worked because so many receivers were sitting because of injuries.

— Earl Watford will play a lot of center the next few practices, Arians said, to get him game-ready. Arians said offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin calls Watford “Knife” — as in Swiss Army, since Watford can play every position on the line. His versatility makes him a strong candidate to be one of the backup linemen active on game days.


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2016 – 1:35 pm

The players have been gone for a couple of weeks. The coaches are on vacation. Now is the time for them to not think about football, since football will dominate lives when the end of July arrives.

In the meantime, it is the perfect time to speculate and predict.

As I have done for a number of years, here are my picks, in late June, of who will be the starters for the Cardinals when they begin the regular season Sept. 11 against the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.” They are the best guesses for a team that has yet to take part in training camp, yet to absorb any of the inevitable camp injuries, yet to sign anyone late as a Steve Keim blue light special.

While the Cardinals often are in some sort of sub-package, for this post we are going with the base defense. I’ll post my thoughts on the offense tomorrow (and here they are):

DT – Calais Campbell. Going into the last year of his contract, Campbell’s future with the Cardinals is fuzzy. But the Pro Bowler has played well, and the addition of Chandler Jones figures to make him better, and in a year where the Cards are going to push for a Super Bowl, he’ll be a key piece.

NT – Corey Peters. The Cards like Rodney Gunter, who was solid as a rookie. But Peters was impressing coaches before his Achilles injury last season, and I expect him to make a similar push to get back into the starting lineup by the time the season starts. Other than Campbell, the defensive line starter positions are a) up for grabs and b) part of a rotation, anyway. One caveat: This is assuming Peters is indeed all the way healthy, but coach Bruce Arians said Peters would be ready to go come camp.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Rucker missed offseason work with a foot injury, and he may not be ready right when camp opens. But assuming he doesn’t miss too much time, he figures to find his way into the lineup again. He’s been solid the last couple of seasons, and while there is youth available (Gunter, Nkemdiche, Stinson) Rucker still leads the way.

OLB – Chandler Jones. He was penciled into the lineup the day he arrived in a trade. He’ll be a three-down player.

ILB – Deone Bucannon. Last year at this time I picked Bucannon to be the starting strong safety. It was, after all, where he spent the entire 2015 offseason working. Then, when camp began, Buc was back at dollar linebacker. The Cards don’t even pretend he is anything but anymore.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He got his chance to show he could be a starter last year, and he made it work. He’ll be back in place again as he goes into the last year of his contract.

OLB – Markus Golden. When it comes to outside linebackers, Jones is the star, Alex Okafor is the former starter on the comeback trail after his dicey exit to 2015, and Dwight Freeney is the still-available free agent. Meanwhile, Golden, who was solid as a rookie, will slide into the starting spot opposite Jones. He’ll have the chance to be a nice bookend.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Yes, 2014 was mostly forgettable. Peterson couldn’t have made 2015 more memorable. That was the stud cornerback he could be, and the one the Cards are counting on going forward.

CB – Justin Bethel. There is competition, not from someone unsigned, but from the rookies. If Bethel is going to grab this job, he has to hold off raw rookie Brandon Williams. He should be able to do that.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, I think Mathieu finds a way to be ready by “Sunday Night Football” to open the season. If not, Tyvon Branch – who will get a lot of playing time anyway – is around. The Cards need a healthy and productive Mathieu.

SS – Tony Jefferson. Branch will be in the mix too, and D.J. Swearinger will make a push, but in the end I think Jefferson finds his way on to the field first, as the Cards once again mix-and-match often their secondary. (Would I be surprised if Branch starts? Not at all.)

DefenseWorth


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More than 53: No bad days allowed

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2016 – 10:48 am

There were multiple things that ranked as priorities for GM Steve Keim when he first got his current job, and one of those was to build depth on the roster. On that, he has most certainly succeeded. Where might that leave the Cardinals at the end of training camp?

“We have more than 53 (players),” Arians said at the completion of minicamp. “We have 65 probably that I am comfortable with. You can’t have a bad day. Especially with certain position groups, you just can’t have a bad day. You’ll fall too far behind.”

There are still areas in which the Cards could fortify. A veteran cornerback. A veteran right tackle. If the team ends up signing one or both of those guys, then the Cards have 66 or 67 guys with whom Arians would be comfortable. It sets up the possibility of a camp trade for a late-round draft pick, but it means the Cardinals will definitely release some players who will be considered “surprises.”

So much is left to be fought before then. The defensive line was one of those overstuffed spots last training camp, but the dynamic changed considerably when Corey Peters hurt his Achilles and was lost for the season. Still, it was a mild surprise when Matt Shaughnessy was released, and someone else would have had to go had Peters stayed healthy.

What are the positions this year? Defensive line, once again. The back end of the secondary — while there is inexperience, drafting three defensive backs will make those choices intriguing. Reserve offensive linemen and outside linebackers. Arians isn’t wrong. Bad days won’t help.

FightFor65


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Gunter’s turn, and “ask Daryl”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2015 – 5:24 pm

The Cardinals have a week left of training camp. The current week ended a little rough, with the Corey Peters and Mike Iupati injury news, but these things happen. And as harsh as it sounds, defensive line was probably the best position from which the Cardinals could handle losing a starter for the season. It’s just as Bruce Arians said, though, you don’t want a rash of injuries at the position.

We’ll see how Rodney Gunter comes out as starter. He’s a long way from between the orchard and the graveyard. He crushed Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray in last week’s preseason opener and the day Peters got hurt in practice, with Gunter at defensive end, he knocked back tackle Bradley Sowell so violently that it drew “ooohhhs” from the defensive players watching the play.

— Running back Chris Johnson came off the practice field when the workout was over Thursday with a wrap on the back of his upper right leg. Don’t know what it means yet. Earlier in the day Bruce Arians said Johnson would get five or six carries against the Chargers Saturday.

— Much deserved praise came Tyrann Mathieu’s way when he had his interception-fest in practice last week. It’s worth noting safety Tony Jefferson came up with his fourth pick in five practices Thursday. I do not expect anything to change with his Madden rating, however.)

— Many, many requests, both in the comments here and on Twitter, for Daryl Washington information. Arians too was asked for answers, with the reporter noting that many fans — the “Birdgang” — had been wanting to know what’s up.

“Ask Daryl,” Arians said. “I’m not allowed to talk to Daryl. The league hasn’t notified me of anything, so I would ask the Birdgang to please call Daryl.”

TC15.MoreRodtweet


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Peters out for season, Iupati has surgery

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2015 – 11:59 am

It didn’t look good Wednesday when the news broke that guard Mike Iupati was probably going to need knee surgery and then defensive tackle Corey Peters left practice early with a lower left leg problem. Turned out, it wasn’t good. Peters is out for the season after tearing his left Achilles; he tore his right one at the end of the 2013. It’s a harsh blow, because Peters was looking very good in his role for the Cardinals, but the Cards do have depth on the defensive line. Now, it’ll be tested. Rookie Rodney Gunter will get first crack at replacing Peters in the lineup, and with the plays Gunter has made in practice at times, the Cards will see if they can mine such talent.

“I’m surrounded by greatness. I have no choice but to be great,” Gunter said.

The Iupati injury is less severe, and Bruce Arians said Iupati could miss as little as three weeks after meniscus repair in his left knee. Of course, Arians said it could be as much as eight weeks — every person is different in recovery. Ted Larsen steps into Iupati’s starting role.

We will have much more soon on azcardinals.com.


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Iupati to get left knee checked UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on August 19, 2015 – 12:11 pm

Bruce Arians said guard Mike Iupati will miss practice today and will get further tests to check out his left knee. Pressed on what was wrong, Arians chuckled. “I’m sending him to a doctor. I don’t know,” Arians said. “He’s got a knee swelling a little bit.” We’ll see what happens, but Arians’ mood was not of a man worried that his starting left guard was going to be out for a long time, so take that for what it’s worth.

UPDATE: Adam Schefter reported Iupati was “likely” to have surgery and would miss 6 to 8 weeks. No official word is expected until Arians talks Thursday. Defensive tackle Corey Peters was also carted off with a left leg/ankle injury Wednesday afternoon.

— The rest of the injury list is much shorter than it once was. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (hamstring) remains sidelined. Cornerback Jerraud Powers (oblique) is still limited. Still out are LB Shaq Riddick (hamstring), T Rob Crisp (knee), CB Jonte Green (hamstring) and WR Michael Floyd (hand).

— Arians is also giving all the 10-year vets a day off. So no Leach, Zastudil, Palmer, Redding, Fitzgerald or Rucker today.

— Arians said there were times Chris Johnson looked explosive Tuesday, although the running back has a lot to learn in the Cards’ offense.

Weren’t we just talking about this? Arians said he didn’t see why joint practices couldn’t be held without fighting. It’s on the coaches. “There’s no place in the game for (fighting),” Arians said. “Coaches that believe it that, they need to get new jobs.”

TC13.Iupatitweet


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2015 – 3:11 pm

The end of the offseason comes with it lots of speculation and analysis. That’s par for the NFL course these days, when even the parts that don’t mean a ton get parsed and dissected. The on-field work of OTAs and minicamp is the ultimate in that regard. Once, when the CBA was different and the league was different, minicamp was about pads and training camp got a brief yet important head start (ask Ron Wolfley.) Now minicamp, other than extra time on the field, is no different from OTAs in terms of (non-)contact and what it means. Shorts are shorts, and football isn’t played in shorts.

So when I get to this point in the offseason, when I put out my best guess at the starting 11 for the Cardinals when the regular season opens Sept. 13 before I take some vacation, it comes with the caveat: So much is still to be learned in training camp. At this point last year, Jonathan Cooper was a virtual lock to start at left guard, for instance. We know how that turned out.

That said, here are my thoughts on the defense. Offense will be posted tomorrow. Something to chew on while the temperature sizzles outside and the players get down time until the very-late July report day. One point to note — the Cardinals do open against the Saints, so the actual starting lineup may actually be the nickel sub-package or something like that. For this exercise, we’re going base defense:

(UPDATE: Here is the offense.)

DE — Frostee Rucker. The Cardinals are going to rotate their defensive linemen a lot (except for maybe Calais Campbell) but the veteran Rucker should be in the game to start. He was dropped into that role in training camp last year after Darnell Dockett got hurt and had a solid season.

NT — Corey Peters. Peters isn’t built the same as departed nose tackle Dan Williams, but the Cardinals are counting on him to have a similar impact. One of the reasons Williams was allowed to leave was because he wasn’t going to play the amount of snaps needed to give him the money he could make on the open market. Peters is a little more versatile. It’ll be interesting to see where someone like undrafted rookie Xavier Williams could eventually fit into this equation.

DE — Calais Campbell. He’s the Pro Bowler of the front seven and the guy who Bruce Arians wants to lead this defense. Interesting that a couple pof times Arians has talked about Campbell finding more consistency in his high play. If Campbell gets there, the Cards’ defense will be in good shape.

OLB — LaMarr Woodley. This is a big wild card going into training camp. Lorenzo Alexander has been with the first unit alongside Alex Okafor, but I think Woodley — or someone — finds a way to supplant Alexander by the time training camp ends. Maybe it would be rookie Markus Golden who pairs with Okafor. Maybe, since it’s the Saints in the first game, DE-turned-OLB Kareem Martin gets a shot. But right now, I’ll guess Woodley.

ILB — Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon has to stay healthy, but if he is, he joins Campbell and Patrick Peterson as the three absolute locks to start.

ILB — Kevin Minter. He won’t play if the Saints run three and four receivers out there constantly, but Minter will be that run stopper inside in a season that really becomes ultra-important. He sat as a rookie because of Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby. His play last season was undercut by a training camp pectoral injury he played through. He’s healthy now, and needs to show why he was a second-round pick.

OLB — Alex Okafor. Okafor has gotten plenty of praise from Arians, who thinks Okafor would have gotten double-digit sacks (he had eight) had he just been healthy for all 16 games. Okafor probably isn’t the long-term dynamic pass rusher the Cards still need, but he has shown he can pressure the quarterback, and that makes him very valuable.

CB — Patrick Peterson. For whatever the reasons might have been, Peterson did not play as well in 2014 as the Cardinals needed or how anyone expected. Time to right that wrong. Peterson looked fit and active in the offseason work, which was a good sign.

CB — Jerraud Powers. There is still a chance Justin Bethel has a great camp and passes up Powers for a starting job, but in the end I expect Powers to be the guy. Arians has said good things about him constantly, and the Cards like his smarts on the field.

SS — Deone Bucannon. For a good chunk of offseason work, it was Bucannon and Rashad Johnson on the field with the first team base defense, with Tyrann Mathieu coming off the bench. But I think Mathieu will be a guy the Cards want to have on the field at all times, and right now, I think they’d like to find a way for Bucannon to have a role at safety. Now, the Cards will want to use Johnson — the on-field coach of the secondary, if not the defense — but I think it’ll be more like the role Johnson had in 2013 once Mathieu took his starting spot.

FS — Tyrann Mathieu. Again, the Cards have depth at safety. There will be times when Bucannon plays some linebacker in sub-packages and the Cards use Mathieu, Johnson and Tony Jefferson on the field at the same time. Arians has stressed the Cards want the best 11 on the field for each particular play. But a healthy, playmaking Mathieu is going to get a lot of snaps.

DefensiveHuddleBloguse

 


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The gains and losses of free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on May 18, 2015 – 10:44 am

The Cardinals signed linebacker Darryl Sharpton last week and the timing meant something. By signing Sharpton Wednesday, the Cardinals cleared the date for free agents signing counting against them for next year’s compensatory pick equation. Any free agent signed at the point will not count.

(The Cardinals were awarded one comp pick this past draft; they ended up with the final selection of the whole thing, which they used on Lousiville tight end Gerald Christian.)

It’s too early to know exactly how the comp pick equation might play out. Part of how it’s determined is playing time in the upcoming season. It also takes into account how much money for which each player signed. A quick look at who the Cardinals could have counting for and against them in the comp pick equation next draft. As always, a quick reminder that if a player was cut by the Cards or cut by another team, he does not qualify on these lists. For example, losing Darnell Dockett does not factor in because Dockett was released.:

FREE AGENTS GAINED

G Mike Iupati (5 years, $40M)
DT Corey Peters (3 years, $10.5M)
DE Cory Redding (2 years, $6M)
LB Sean Weatherspoon (1 year, $3.6M)

FREE AGENTS LOST

LB Sam Acho (1 year, $825,000)
CB Antonio Cromartie (4 years, $32M)
G Paul Fanaika (3 years, $6.1M)
TE Rob Housler (1 year, $1.76M)
DT Dan Williams (4 years, $25M)

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see GM Steve Keim make another signing (or two) at some point before camp, or even into camp. But the numbers are set for the compensatory math.

FAcompblog


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With workouts, volunteering to be paid

Posted by Darren Urban on April 2, 2015 – 4:31 pm

When the strength and conditioning program begins for the Cardinals (and around most of the league) April 20, the tendency is to wonder, “Who isn’t there?” Then becomes the rash of “Remember, it’s only voluntary” answers.

(The teams with new head coaches can begin sooner.)

As the years have gone on and teams have hoped that their players would show up to such voluntary work, many contracts have been drawn up with workout bonuses attached. For a pretty good chunk of change, the players just have to come to a high percentage of the voluntary workout dates. The Cardinals are no different.

A list of the players on the active roster that have workout bonuses. (NT Alameda Ta’amu has a workout-like bonus, but that money is tied to making weight, not just showing up to work):

P Dave Zastudil $270,000
DE Calais Campbell $250,000
QB Drew Stanton $250,000
LB Sean Weatherspoon $250,000
S Rashad Johnson $150,000
DT Corey Peters $150,000
LB Matt Shaughnessy $125,000
CB Patrick Peterson $100,000
LB Lorenzo Alexander $100,000
S Tyrann Mathieu $50,000
C/G A.Q. Shipley $25,000
C/G Ted Larsen $25,000

ShaughnWOuse


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