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(A quiet) Friday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2014 – 4:46 pm

Oh, there was still drama Friday that impacted the Cardinals, but for the first time in a couple of weeks, it wasn’t directly related to the Cardinals themselves. Instead, the Seahawks traded (the guy who seemed to be a dangerous) playmaker Percy Harvin to the Jets. That means the Cards never had to play against the guy when he was in Seattle – he was injured for both 2013 meetings, and the Cards have yet to play the Seahawks this season. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about why Harvin was dumped soon – a lot of stuff out there already basically saying Harvin had worn out his welcome – but the Cards aren’t going to be dealing with him.

Otherwise, it was a boring Friday for the Cards as they prepare for their road trip to Oakland. That’s a good thing. No quarterback questions. No wondering about chop block fines. No new injuries. Just a game.

How about that?

– Bruce Arians all but scoffed at the idea of trap games, and the way he and his staff operates, that doesn’t surprise me. There has been zero looking ahead (Philly and Dallas are up next) from what I have heard/can tell. Arians did say the Cards can’t be as listless to start in Oakland as they were against Washington and I totally agree. The lesson hopefully was learned.

– Speaking of listless, the last time the Cardinals went to Oakland for a regular-season game was 2006. It was a disaster. It was a week after the Cardinals had the infamous Monday Night Meltdown and Denny popped off (hey, that eight-year anniversary, by the way, was yesterday!) The Cardinals had fallen to 1-5, but we’re playing the 0-5 Raiders and the I-don’t-give-a-flip version of Randy Moss. The Cards were terrible. Moss actually scored a TD. That was a long time ago.

– Andre Ellington believes the run game is close. He actually said he feels more fresh right now than he probably should, because his foot injury means he doesn’t do as much as practice as he normally would. Ellington has also be careful, as he was going to have to, of getting down on plays once he figures out he’s not going to gain any more yards.

It was noticeable against Washington, and I even heard from a couple of fans wondering why he was going down so easily. In the end, Ellington said, it’s about thinking big picture.

“I don’t have the strength to fight away from tackles,” Ellington said. “I try to do myself justice by getting down and getting ready for the next play.

“(Other people) are not out there taking those hits like I have to. I feel like once I get all I can get, I’m going to go down. I moreso do it on plays when I get a big gain. If it’s third-and-one, I’m going to fight for that yard.”

– Ellington also said the Cardinals would have “some surprises” in the run game Sunday. We’ll see what that means.

– Redskins defensive tackle Chris Baker was fined $10,000 for ripping the helmet off quarterback Carson Palmer on that in-the-grasp-probably-should-have-been-a-sack pass completion Palmer made to Robert Hughes. Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson was fined $16,537 for a horsecollar tackle on the sideline made on safety Rashad Johnson after Johnson’s first interception. Neither play drew a flag from the officials (although Dan Williams, Jared Veldheer and Tony Jefferson tried to get in Jackson’s face after the play.)

– Running back Marion Grice got a few first-team reps at running back this week, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said, although Goodwin made it sound it was more exploratory rather a harbinger of anything imminent. Goodwin also reiterated he thinks Grice can perform all the same tasks as Ellington.

– The Cardinals are third in the NFL in run defense, meaning they moved up in the rankings even after losing Calais Campbell and Matt Shaughnessy. Now they face the next-to-last rushing team in the league.

– How about Dan Williams playing some defensive end? The nose tackle likes it. “I’ll take it where I can get it,” Williams said. “It kind of reminded me of college a little bit. I haven’t played that much end since my rookie year.”

– You just get a feeling Patrick Peterson is motivated to have a big game Sunday.

– You know the Raiders buried a football? That’s what interim coach Tony Sparano did with his team, symbolizing the end of the poor play that culminated with coach Dennis Allen’s firing.

“If you keep looking back with that same old mindset like, ‘Oh, yeah man, we can’t do it because this, this and that, we already lost five games,’ well you defeated yourself before you even tried to get on the field and to make something happen,” Raiders defensive end and former Cardinal Antonio Smith said. “I think that was the main thing that Tony was trying to symbolize when burying that ball—burying whoever you were before that day, whatever team we were before that day.”

The Raiders played better last week. But they still lost. The Cards don’t want that changing. Not yet.

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Extending Palmer and the 2015 offseason

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2014 – 10:21 am

It comes as no surprise that the Cardinals want to extend quarterback Carson Palmer. GM Steve Keim said he has had initial discussions with Palmer’s agent, and given the landscape, keeping Palmer around makes sense for both sides. For Palmer, who will turn 35 in December, he has found a comfort — and success — working in Bruce Arians’ system. Considering there probably aren’t many teams that are going to want to bring in a 35-year-old QB, at least not believing in him at the level the Cardinals do, Palmer wanting to remain is only logical.

The Cardinals have a quarterback who works for them, not only passing the ball but as a leader, a guy who easily was voted captain by his teammates. Palmer stands tall in that locker room, and it has nothing to do with his 6-foot-5 frame but the way he carries himself and plays off every guy in there. At some point, the Cardinals will have to find their long-term QB answer, and maybe it’s Logan Thomas and maybe Keim sees the franchise QB sitting there late in the first round this coming April, but there are no certainties and having Palmer in place is almost obvious for the team too.

The shoulder nerve issue probably threw a wrench into things somewhat. You have to believe Palmer will stay healthy. But assuming that, this should work. If it makes so much sense for both sides, it almost has to, right?

But that also leads into this incredibly interesting offseason to come for Keim. Last year, he said the 2015 season was really when the Cards would be in better shape in terms of the salary cap. You can only assume he was already taking into account the Larry Fitzgerald situation, and what he may or may not do with Darnell Dockett’s contract (a spot that’s gotten stickier now that Dockett, who turns 34 in May, will be coming off major knee surgery.)  That doesn’t include the scheduled free agents: Antonio Cromartie, Dan Williams, Sam Acho, Tommy Kelly, Larry Foote and Paul Fanaika among them.

If there is anything Keim has shown with a couple of offseasons under his belt, it’s that the Cardinals have a plan on how they spend. And going overboard isn’t part of it. There is a number the Cardinals have in mind they will want to give to any of these guys for 2015 — for a Fitz, for a Dan Williams. For a Palmer. Selling a chance to stay with a winner helps.

Of course, winning only happens when there is a QB in place. Palmer is that guy for the Cardinals. You want him to stick around.

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Keim: Minter, Cooper should be back

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2014 – 8:14 am

GM Steve Keim said on his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports’ “Doug and Wolf” show that the Cardinals expect linebacker Kevin Minter (pectoral) and guard Jonathan Cooper (toe) to return to practice today. That is good news, although it should probably come with a caveat: Because the Cards just played last night, I am guessing practice will be very light today. But it’s a start. Bruce Arians had said this is a big week for both if they have any hope of playing in the opener. We’ll see how it plays out.

– Keim confirmed what I thought I had seen, that wide receiver Michael Floyd did hesitate in his route on the play where Carson Palmer overthrew him despite no defender in the area. “Michael slowed down in his ‘go’ route and the fact is if he would have kept running Carson would have hit him in stride for a touchdown. I expect that to be cleaned up.” Keim said he checked with Bruce Arians to see if Floyd was actually running a double move, but that Arians told him it was a straight fly pattern.

Overall, “it just didn’t seem like our quarterback and our receivers were in sync last night,” Keim said.

– He said after watching video, he was even more impressed with the offensive line play, especially the protection.

– Keim said a big concern of his coming into camp was right tackle but said that no longer is an issue. “Bobby Massie played very well last night,” he said.

– He said he thought DT Dan Williams had his best game of the preseason. In light of Darnell Dockett’s absence, that’s a good thing.

– Keim was very high on the play of rookie safety Deone Bucannon, and said he hopes Bucannon gets more playing time.

– Asked if the Cardinals were going to take one kicker or two kickers to San Diego, Keim said they would make that decision “later today.” UPDATE: The Cardinals cut Jay Feely.


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Time for the defense to recalibrate

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2014 – 9:52 am

Perhaps the day off Tuesday came at the right time for the Cardinals. The defense can digest the season-ending injury to Darnell Dockett, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can start to sort out how exactly he will run his defense with the pieces he has left. You can sit and mull what the Cardinals don’t have now compared to 2013, but it’s a moot point.

Along the defensive line, the Cardinals are expected to add a vet to the roster (Brett Keisel went back to Pittsburgh) but veteran Frostee Rucker should end up as the starter alongside Calais Campbell and Dan Williams. There should be plenty of mixing and matching, though, with rookies Ed Stinson and Kareem Martin and now, Alameda Ta’amu, who comes back to practice today. There would have been mixing and matching even if Dockett was healthy. Getting a steady rotation on the defensive line has been one of the main themes GM Steve Keim wanted to accomplish while re-tooling the roster. The key here could be Ta’amu, because if he can return to form relatively quickly, it will impact the middle of that line.

At linebacker, there have long been concerns and whenever Kevin Minter returns to the field, that probably doesn’t go away. I thought Larry Foote played pretty well in Minnesota and it was encouraging to see newcomer Desmond Bishop do what he did in a handful of plays, but the question marks don’t go away and now you don’t have a guy like Dockett in front of them. The plus is that outside linebacker John Abraham is back (his return to practice, pictured below, was seriously overshadowed Monday by the Dockett news) but again, until he plays his way into shape, it’s tough to know what he’ll bring.

In the secondary, the Cardinals not only have all their guys still but now Tyrann Mathieu is back in the mix too. That group remains the strongest, although playing out on an island at times means they need the front seven to come through. That was a bit troubling to hear Bruce Arians talk about how many times the Cardinals did not run their blitzes correctly in Minnesota — Bowles was magical last year the way he schemed players to often get to the quarterback untouched — and that will be a key to this whole thing.

The Cardinals’ offense will be better this season and they will need to be. Regardless, the Cardinals aren’t going to get where they want to go unless the defense plays at a high level. They will have to do it differently than they once planned.

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Impressing the boss and many B.A. notes

Posted by Darren Urban on August 4, 2014 – 12:25 pm

When the pads go on and the tackling starts, players can make an impact. Two young guys who did that during the Fan Fest work were tight end Darren Fells and undrafted rookie defensive tackle Bruce Gaston. Arians mentioned both by name Monday as having caught his eye Saturday, and there is nothing better than having your coach call you out in a good way during a press conference. That’s twice for Fells in a week, too. And as you know, three times is the charm.

(Actually, it will be really interesting to see what happens with Fells and the other tight ends. The Cardinals aren’t keeping five. Fells could go back to practice squad, but would he clear waivers? Would the Cardinals look at a trade? A lot of camp to go so maybe Fells’ star fades, but it’s an intriguing situation.”

Arians also mentioned Robert Hughes and Jonathan Dwyer, and again, those two look like the natural backs to join Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor on the 53 in early September.

Gaston also creates a dilemma if he indeed stays in contention for the roster. “He was blowing up some blockers and made a name for himself in that scrimmage.” Figure the Cardinals will keep six defensive linemen. Dockett, Campbell, Dan Williams and the two rookies Martin and Stinson seem like locks. Alameda Ta’amu might be on PUP, but what about Frostee Rucker, who also seems like a lock? Would the Cardinals keep seven defensive linemen?

– One of the reasons left guard Jonathan Cooper has struggled is going against defensive end Calais Campbell, who has played at a Pro Bowl level the last couple of years.

“Coop is getting there. He’s still a rookie,” Campbell said. “I don’t feel bad beating him. I mean I kind of do a little bit but I know I have to go hard against him so he can be football-ready because the first game he’ll have to step up and play big for us.

“Me and Coop are great friends. You don’t want to make him look bad in theory. But it is best for the team for me to go strong, and get him game-ready. We’ve had some good battles.”

Arians said Cooper responded well Saturday to his “disappointed” comments.

– WR John Brown (hamstring) will miss practice again today.

– Arians said he expects everyone to play Saturday against Houston, barring injury. He does hope Brown is back and playing. Starters will go about 15 plays.

– Arians update on the return of absent linebacker John Abraham. “I would hope next week,” he said. Added that with Abraham’s experience, missing a couple weeks of camp was not a big deal.

– Logan Thomas will be the third QB against Houston and play most of the fourth quarter. Ryan Lindley will get that chance the following game in Minnesota.

– Reminder that today’s practice is closed to the public. That gives Arians a chance to see how his team responds. There were an announced 23,000 at the Fan Fest scrimmage Saturday, which provided energy as a backdrop to what Arians called the best practice of camp. “It should be with 20-some thousand people,” Arians said. “It should get the juice flowing. Look forward to what it will be with nobody in there. It’s got to be the same kind.”

 

 


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Abraham expected in camp soon

Posted by Darren Urban on August 1, 2014 – 12:23 pm

In a special long-distance Cardinals update as I fly to Canton for Aeneas Williams’ Hall of Fame induction, the big news was Bruce Arians’ comments on absent linebacker John Abraham. Arians said “He will be here soon” and added he expects Abraham in “five or six days.” For a veteran like Abraham, missing a couple of weeks of training camp really won’t make a big impact. But it’ll be good for the Cardinals to have him return. Other tidbits from Arians after the morning walkthrough:

– RB Andre Ellington and DT Dan Williams are returning to practice, but WR John Brown (hamstring) is going to sit out. Arians does not believe it is serious and at first, Brown had been hoping to practice today. The Cardinals are going to play it safe.

– Arians said safety Tyrann Mathieu is anxious to get back to practice. “He’s begging me to come off PUP.”

– The addition of veteran Max Starks will give the Cardinals “quality depth and competition” and can play both tackle spots, Arians said. Still pleased with how Bobby Massie is doing. Arians also said he likes the idea of having veteran tackles on the field in the preseason. That makes sense. Quarterbacks can get under fire when you get deeper in the depth chart on the offensive line. Starks will practice with the second unit on both sides. Starks lives in nearby Fountain Hills, so it’s not like he even had to fly in.

– No true comparison to bringing in Eric Winston a year ago, Arians said, because of the confidence Massie has now earned.

– As for the Cardinals other top reserve tackles, Nate Potter is having a good camp, Bradley Sowell has been “OK,” Arians said.

– Arians had big praise for safeties Tony Jefferson and Rashad Johnson. May make it tougher for Deone Bucannon to crack the starting lineup, but he’s done well as “dollar” linebacker in the nickel.

– Arians wants LB Alex Okafor to bring his motor up to run “hot” all the time like fellow linebacker Sam Acho. Arians has been very happy with Acho’s play.

– If you get a chance, please check out my big Aeneas Williams’ story as a lead-in to Saturday’s induction.


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Sendlein out three weeks and Abraham arrest

Posted by Darren Urban on July 29, 2014 – 12:29 pm

The Cardinals collected a handful of injuries on their first day of padded practice, the most serious of which is the left calf injury to starting center Lyle Sendlein that will sideline Sendlein for three weeks, coach Bruce Arians said. In his place, Ted Larsen will play center. It’s not a huge deal, since Sendlein will return in camp and is experienced enough to overcome missing practice.

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie is also expected to miss four or five days with a pectoral injury, while running back Andre Ellington (neck) will miss Tuesday’s work. Also hurting are linebacker Ernie Sims (back spasms), nose tackle Christian Topou (groin) and cornerback Todd Washington (groin). The Topou injury is interesting because fellow nose tackles Dan Williams (knee) and Alameda Ta’amu (PUP – knee) are already sitting. All hands on deck, Arians said, which means some mixing and matching on the defensive line.

– The news came out that linebacker John Abraham, who has been absent from training camp thus far, was arrested for a DUI in Georgia in late June. Arians had no comment, other than to say he knew of the arrest and was actually in Georgia at the same time. Arians also had no comment when asked if the arrest had anything to do with Abraham’s absence, and said he does not know when Abraham will show up to camp. Given Abraham’s experience, missing some training camp isn’t the worst thing in the world. But he barely was on the field all of the offseason too, and the sack production on the roster beyond him is extremely limited. His situation will be important to watch as the days pass.

– Arians said LB Sam Acho had a good day in his first padded practice with a couple of forced fumbles and with his pass rush, a big deal given the Abraham circumstances.

– The kicking rotation will remain with two guys going in a day and the third resting. As for Arians’ evaluation so far, “Cat (Chandler Catanzaro) has been perfect, that’s the only impression I can gather from it. The rest of the guys haven’t been. The numbers don’t lie.” As for the eventual decision, “We’ll see how they do in games. Practices are one thing, games are another. I’ve seen Jay in games for 12 years so I don’t need to see Jay in a lot of games. I know he’s got nerves. The other two guys, you want to see them do it in front of the crowd.”

– Former Cardinals tackle Eric Winston finally found a team Tuesday, signing with the Seahawks.


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Brown’s bomb; Sendlein hurt

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2014 – 5:42 pm

The first padded practice was exactly what you’d want — eventful, with a lot of hitting. Unfortunately, such things can come with a price. Starting center Lyle Sendlein left early in the workout during one-on-one drills with the defensive line after hurting his left calf. No word on the seriousness of the injury. Ted Larsen stepped in to play center on the first unit and as 11-on-11 began, you could tell the chemistry with Larsen and QB Carson Palmer were not there. There were a couple of misplayed snaps/fumbles in the first few plays. It got ironed out. We’ll see what will happen with Sendlein.

Otherwise, the hitting was intense. During the pass protection drills between the linebackers and tight ends/running backs, it’s tough to see Bruce Arians get any more fired up than he did with that. There were some incredible collisions, including when linebacker Kenny Demens just crushed running back Damien Thigpen (who, to be fair, is only 5-8 and 180).

But it was hard not to notice that rookie wide receiver John Brown, who everyone raved about but said needed to wear pads and prove it that way, still shined. His first long pass after putting on pads, he beat cornerback Justin Bethel — who isn’t exactly slow — by a couple of steps and hauled in an 82-yard touchdown in stride. More on Brown on the homepage in a bit.

In other notes:

– Sendlein wasn’t the only injury. Defensive tackle is becoming an issue. Alameda Ta’amu is already on PUP and Dan Williams sat out with a sore left knee, so Christian Tupou stepped in in the middle of the 3-4 defense — only to leave early with what looked like some kind of right thigh injury. He walked off the field at the end of practice, though, having taken off his ice wrap, so it may not be a big deal.

– The fears of having a big hitter at safety: On one play, wide receiver Jaron Brown couldn’t hold on to a pass in the end zone with cornerback Jerraud Powers behind him and rookie safety Deone Bucannon coming at his chest. But Bucannon was a step or two away, and popped him (not full on) after Brown dropped the pass. Arians yelled across the field, “That’s a flag” so Bucannon understood that just can’t happen in today’s game. It was bang-bang, but Arians is right — it probably draws a penalty.

– The Cardinals ran a “fire” field goal drill on a “mishandled” snap. Holder Dave Zastudil rolled left and lofted a pass toward undrafted rookie tackle Kelvin Palmer. Palmer, 6-4 and 302, made a great catch while shielding the ball with his body from coverage linebacker Alex Okafor. I wish I had a picture or video. It was impressive from the big man.

– Former Cardinals offensive lineman Leonard “Bigg” Davis made an appearance on the sideline, as did former safety Kwamie Lassiter.

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Arians: Pads are on to stay

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2014 – 12:25 pm

Coach Bruce Arians said he was happy padded practice arrived Monday afternoon because Sunday “we were way too active to be in shorts.” The pads will make it seem a lot like football — the first two days of camp just seem like a continuation of the offseason OTAs (which gets old after a while). The pads will stay on too, Arians said.

“With the limited time you can hit now, you can’t hit enough in my opinion,” Arians said. “You only get 15 practices before you are playing games. The evaluation process … most of it has been about how mentally can they handle the job, now it’s whether they can actually play. You can’t get enough evaluations in that situation.”

Arians will dial it down when the Cardinals trim to the 53-man roster. Until then, though, let the hitting commence.

– The swollen left knee of DT Dan Williams is not serious, Arians said, stemming from an old injury. Williams is getting an MRI but he should not miss much time. Everyone else is ready to practice, save for absent LB John Abraham.

– Thus far, Logan Thomas has received all the QB 11-on-11 reps that have not gone to Carson Palmer or Drew Stanton. That will change, Arians said, but we’ll see how soon. “Ryan is going to get the short end of the stick for a little bit because Logan is new,” Arians said.

– Arians said he considered center Lyle Sendlein underrated. Sendlein does fly under the radar but he is respected by this staff, which — if you can do after a full coaching change — is impressive.

– When the pads go on, there is always the threat of a scuffle breaking out. It’s unlikely at Cards camp, though, because Arians leaves little doubt how he feels about in-fighting.

“The first thing you do is break your hand,” Arians said. “Might as well punch the wall. If you want to break your hand, break your hand. If you want to fight I’ll put boxing gloves on you and you can fight your ass off. That’s what Coach (Bear) Bryant used to do. Want to fight? Wear 18-pound gloves, and they were not allowed to stop swinging.

 

Arians was asked how it would end. “They both passed out. It only happened once. (Now,) the CBA might frown on it.”

Arians did say he wouldn’t fine a guy for fighting. “No. I’ll cut ‘em,” Arians said. “There’s always a threat of that.”

 


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No Dobermans here, and other camp-open notes

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2014 – 2:35 pm

Here’s how you know it’s time for football again — Bruce Arians is on top of his game. Asked if the change in strength and conditioning coaches to Buddy Morris meant Arians’ stance had changed in terms of incorporating stretching into practice, the Cardinals’ coach gave a definitive no. Stretching still must be done by players before practice is scheduled to start.

“If a Doberman jumped out of a car with a gun, you wouldn’t be stretching,” Arians said. “When the horn blows, we’re practicing.”

And away we go.

Some other notes and quotes from the first day of camp, which was essentially multiple 60-yard sprints and about 30 minutes out on the field:

– Everyone passed. “I thought (314-pound nose tackle) Dan Williams looked as sexy in a run test as he’s ever looked,” Arians said. That’s Williams below, second from left (with Frostee Rucker, Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell.)

– Everyone was at University of Phoenix Stadium except for veteran linebacker John Abraham. Abraham was excused, Arians said, and would be back as soon as possible.

– Tyrann Mathieu, on the PUP list, isn’t close to returning although Arians said the safety would be ready in “a day” if he needed to be. Mathieu said he figures he’s still more than a month away, noting that oft-discussed bye week after three games but hopefully before that.

– Arians said Andre Ellington’s weight isn’t up that much but the running back’s strength has improved and he is ready to be both a leader and the “bell cow” of the offense.

– Per CBA rules, the Cardinals won’t wear pads this weekend. First padded practice is Monday.

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