Darren Fells’ story of how he came to be a tight end is well known. He didn’t play football for a decade after high school, because first he played college basketball at UC-Irvine and then professionally hoops overseas. He had a breakout game Sunday, but let’s face it, he has the experience on the court.
But many football players fancy themselves as handy on the hardwood, whether it’s Tony Jefferson shooting baskets in the locker room or Tyrann Mathieu exclaiming his basketball exploits on Twitter. Larry Fitzgerald had his moments playing high school hoops himself, and apparently that long-ago success has been burned into his brain, because the 6-foot-3 Fitz admitted he’s challenged the 6-7 Fells.
“We’ve got a standing bet between me and Darren,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t think he can get me, to be honest with you. He’s not quick enough. He can’t back me down — that’s the only way he could get me. His left hand is a little suspect. The jumper, it’s OK. I have a much better jump shot than he does.”
This challenge actually could end up being real at some point. “He actually put a game check on it,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m going to see how much his wife and his new baby girl appreciate me snatching the game check from him.”
But are you going to put a game check up, Fitz? “We didn’t talk about that,” Fitz said, laughing.
(That’s classic Fitz, by the way. For comparison, Fells’ game check is worth $30,000. Fitz’s game check is worth $58,823. Lucky for Fitz his restructured contract “only” has a $1 million salary this season.)
Fitzgerald shrugged off the idea he’d ask Fells to spot him points. “I wouldn’t ask for points. Straight up. Ones and twos.
“I’m thinking mid-February. I’ll still be in good shape after the long playoff run.”
Tags: Darren Fells, Larry Fitzgerald
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Rashad Johnson had already pulled off his jersey and shoulder pads as he made his way off the field Sunday, the Cardinals’ 31-19 win official. The shirt he wore under his jersey for the game, now drenched in sweat? None other than one that proclaimed “9 More” – or the saying the veteran safety uttered back in 2013, after the last time the Cardinals played the Saints and Johnson lost a fingertip.
He was back with the team a couple days later, telling everyone he was fine because he still had nine more fingers.
It was kind of cool that Johnson got the Cardinals’ lone interception Sunday – he nearly had a second later on. He wasn’t going to get his finger back, but he was able to extract a small revenge.
The offense got gutsy with their playcalls and ended up putting 31 points on the board, but the new James Bettcher defense did a lot of the same things the old Todd Bowles defense did, including stiffening in the red zone to force field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense must be better – as acknowledged by many, way too many yards surrendered on short passes-and-long-runs by running backs – but it was a good enough start.
— The right knee injury to Andre Ellington was scary-looking. But as we got into the postgame, both Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer sounded optimistic that the injury – Arians said the belief is that Elllington hurt his PCL – wouldn’t sideline Ellington permanently.
— That said, we see where the running back depth makes so much sense. Ellington goes down, and you turn to a veteran who still has a little juice left in Chris Johnson. Then you let speed merchant David Johnson loose on the pass – I was down on the sideline when the rookie blew past everyone, and I have to say I didn’t expect that kind of speed – and you figure the Cards can weather an Ellington absence.
— Bruce Arians said he was “anxious” to make the play call that ended in Johnson’s 55-yard touchdown. Which is odd because few do such a thing. ESPN’s Mike Sando tweeted this great stat: From 2010 through last season, NFL teams ran 94.8 percent of the time on second down in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter when leading by six or fewer points.
— Then again, Arians does not lay up. He goes for the pin.
— There were many upset at the sequence at the end of the first half that ended with two incomplete bombs and a Palmer scramble as time ran out, costing the Cards a field-goal try. But remember, that’s the mentality that led to the Johnson touchdown. No risk it, no biscuit. That’s B.A.
— The offensive line did solid. There were hiccups. There always are. But there were not a lot of them and for the most part, there is little to complain about. Earl Watford hung in there at right tackle against the very talented Cameron Jordan. Jonathan Cooper had a rough start but rallied. Most importantly, Carson Palmer was not sacked.
— Backup center/guard A.Q. Shipley played fullback and was lead blocker on Ellington’s touchdown run. Fantastic, and good use of the 46-man active roster on game day.
— Tyrann Mathieu kept promising his savage season and he was all over the field Sunday. He had a team-high eight tackles and three passes deflected while the Cardinals went heavy with their four safety-packages.
— I thought Patrick Peterson played well. Yes, he got beat once by Brandin Cooks for a 30-yard gain. But mostly, Cooks – the Saints’ best offensive weapon – was a non-factor. And mostly, Cooks was covered by Peterson.
— It’s hard to find a better story or more likeable guy (and the Cardinals’ locker room is filled with likeable guys) than tight end Darren Fells. To see him break out is cool, and reinforces what Arians has been saying about his development. There are times when Arians moves into hyperbole with his players, but Fells is proving his coach right on target.
— Michael Floyd played, and had an 18-yard catch early. Arians said he wasn’t on a “pitch count” to hold down his plays, but Floyd certainly didn’t play as much as he normally would.
Road game in Chicago next weekend. One down, at least 15 to go.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson, Darren Fells, Earl Watford, James Bettcher, Jonathan Cooper, Michael Floyd, offensive line, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Saints, Tyrann Mathieu
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Darren Fells chuckled. I mean, what else can you do? It’s not funny with all the injuries the team’s tight end room has absorbed — the latest being a knee problem for Ifeanyi Momah, after he got hurt in Tuesday’s practice — but it’s better than crying. Or punching a wall in frustration. Fells is the one healthy tight end, although Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) did finally practice full on Wednesday and Troy Niklas (hamstring) was able to go limited.
UPDATE: Momah will reportedly have to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus. I would guess Bruce Arians will give the official diagnosis Thursday.
“I don’t know what to say anymore,” Fells said, shaking his head.
(Wide receiver Michael Floyd also returned to practice on a limited basis, even diving to catch one pass.)
Fells laughed again when told that Bruce Arians said he wasn’t worried about his tight ends because at least “we’ve still got one.” That’s Fells, who has maintained his post atop the depth chart, the place he’s been since the summer when the tight ends began their roller coaster journey on the surprise retirement of John Carlson.
“That’s all you can do is laugh about it because … I mean, it’s a bad thing, but all you can do is, like B.A. always says, have next man up,” Fells said. Fells admitted, with all the two-tight end and three-tight end sets the Cards like to use, the lack of bodies makes things hard.
At least Fells is there, though, knocking on the wood of his locker.
Tags: Darren Fells, Ifeanyi Momah, Jermaine Gresham, John Carlson, Troy Niklas
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Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim reiterated today that there could be a trade or two for the Cardinals as the regular season approaches and the team tries to figure out what they do with a couple positions of depth — in particular, the quality group of defensive linemen the team has compiled. He also said, during the first of his weekly appearances on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, that a trade usually comes down to a focus on positions of need rather than the best player available.
As for the Cards’ own positions of need right now, Keim named three spots, all of which have been impacted by early injuries: Running back, inside linebacker and offensive tackle. Running back and tackle, Keim said, are OK when the Cards are healthy and he added Andre Ellington should return to practice this week. (The Cards are also missing David Johnson and Marion Grice, while young tackles D.J. Humphries and Rob Crisp are also out.)
One position Keim is bullish on is tight end. He praised Ifeanyi Momah a ton, which just falls in line with what has been easy to see on the field. Momah has been OK blocking — he’s definitely missed a couple during 11-on-11, but he will be a receiver-first tight end, and he does that well — while Keim also is happy with Darren Fells and is excited about Jermaine Gresham. Now, if Troy Niklas can get back and going …
— Keim, like Bruce Arians, wouldn’t put a timeline on Michael Floyd’s return, but he noted how focused Floyd was before he got hurt and reiterated what a big season this is for Floyd and his future in Arizona.
— The defensive line is deep and talented. Rookie Rodney Gunter is flashing what the Cards had hoped, and there is a belief Gunter can work at nose tackle as well as defensive end. Keim also said Corey Peters is having a good camp.
— Keim believes guard Jonathan Cooper has lost the “hitch” he developed after breaking his leg and looks like he did when he was trending up in his rookie training camp. He also praised the camp of inside linebacker Kevin Minter and outside linebacker Alex Okafor.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Darren Fells, Ifeanyi Momah, Jermaine Gresham, Michael Floyd, Rodney Gunter, Steve Keim
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Heading into camp, the Cardinals will ease Jermaine Gresham back into football. He’s coming off back surgery and hasn’t done anything football-related this summer, and so slow going makes sense. Gresham can come off the PUP list at any point, and like Tyrann Mathieu last year, I’d expect Gresham to be on the roster by early September. Hopefully, a return to the field will be even quicker for Troy Niklas, who ended up on the active non-football-injury list yesterday at the same time the Gresham news was announced. Niklas has a bad hamstring, I would assume hurt while working out in prep for camp.
But that’s two tight ends the Cardinals don’t have for the outset of training camp, and the one open roster spot the team currently has may end up being spent on another tight end just to keep the numbers up — depending on what the timetable might be for Niklas and/or Gresham. It’s another setback for Niklas too, who had his rookie season shredded with injuries — from a broken finger to a bad ankle that needed surgery.
Even without the latest hamstring issue, Niklas acknowledged his ankle isn’t quite 100 percent, noting that his doctor told him it’ll probably be into the season before he builds up all his strength and flexibility.
“I’m not going to make that an excuse,” Niklas said before his hamstring injury. “(The ankle) has healed to a point where I can do mostly everything I want to do.”
As it stands, the Cardinals still have five tight ends ready for camp’s first practice Saturday: Darren Fells, Ifeanyi Momah, Ted Bolser, Gerald Christian and Gannon Sinclair.
Tags: Darren Fells, Gannon Sinclair, Gerald Christian, Ifeanyi Momah, Jermaine Gresham, Ted Bolser, training camp, Troy Niklas
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It wouldn’t be an offseason for the Cardinals and General Manager Steve Keim without a veteran free agent signing or two by the time the team got to training camp. Given the retirement of John Carlson earlier this offseason, making a tight end one of those signings wouldn’t be a surprise. So it’s also not a surprise when Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning former Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham would be visiting the Cardinals this week.
Gresham, a former first-round pick who spent his first five seasons with the Bengals (and once a teammate of Carson Palmer), has started 67 NFL games (of 73 total) and has 280 receptions. He’s a pass catcher on a team that could use a proven one at tight end now that Carlson is gone. He had to have back surgery earlier in the offseason for a herniated disc, which is why he hasn’t signed anywhere yet. He also has been criticized for his inconsistency over the years in Cincinnati.
Gresham has already visited the Saints, who traded away Jimmy Graham, and there is interest there. Gresham also could visit other teams. The Cards have Darren Fells and Troy Niklas as blocker-first-types. Veteran combine signee Ifeanyi Momah — who has been working with Palmer in Palmer’s San Diego workouts — has looked good as a receiver in non-padded OTAs and minicamp. The Cards also have seventh-round pick Gerald Christian, Ted Bolser and Gannon Sinclair at tight end.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Darren Fells, Gannon Sinclair, Ifeanyi Momah, Jermaine Gresham, John Carlson, Ted Bolser, Troy Niklas
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So, before it’s time to take leave for a bit, we come to the second part of the “for what it’s worth” posts. Yesterday, it was the defense. Today, the offense, which starts with a healthy Carson Palmer, always a good thing. This team should be in a better place offensively this season, if for no other reason than the system is set and the offensive line should be better than it’s been overall in a long time. Of course, the Cards have to show it. And Palmer needs to stay on the field.
QB — Carson Palmer. Whatever else the Cardinals might have done on the field this offseason, just having Palmer back and working in 11-on-11 by the end would deem it a success. We’ll see how it plays out in camp — and more importantly, the first preseason game he takes part in — but it’s important that he is on track to be the starter.
RB — Andre Ellington. Rookie David Johnson should end up playing a role and could end up as a key on offense. But right now, all things still figure to go through Ellington to begin with. The entire running back situation is an interesting one. Will the offensive line upgrade trickle down to help this position? How might Kerwynn Williams fit in? The Cards just want Ellington to stay healthy, and see what that means.
WR — Larry Fitzgerald. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact, after another year under 1,000 yards, that Fitz was really clicking with Palmer before Palmer got hurt. If the two vets can play together, I’m curious to see what Fitz’s numbers can be, even in this system when not one receiver figures to dominate the stat sheet.
WR — Michael Floyd. It’s a big year for Floyd. The quarterback situation did not help last season, but there were times even when Palmer played where, for whatever reason, Floyd didn’t produce. Sometimes, that was a lack of targets. The Cards certainly have other options too. But the former No. 1 draft pick needs to make a greater impact.
WR — John Brown. In this setup, the Cards go three wide receivers (I’ll hit the tight ends in a minute.) Brown has added a little muscle and had strong self-awareness of what happened to him last season, including wearing out at the end of the season. Palmer can’t say enough good things about Brown, with whom he developed a strong bond with last summer. Smokey will get his chances.
TE — Darren Fells. Troy Niklas is going to be in this mix and when the Cards go two tight ends on running downs, Niklas will likely join Fells. But right now, with Niklas still trying to get healthy, it is Fells who as emerged out of a very inexperienced tight end room. One caveat: Can’t exclude the possibility of the Cards signing a veteran at the position, which could change this dynamic.
RT — Bobby Massie. D.J. Humphries is making strides, but as of now, it’s hard to see Humphries surpassing Massie. Things could change when the pads go on. Another possibility is if Humphries makes enough strides, maybe Massie is a guy who the Cards would consider trading, especially if another team loses a tackle in injury in camp. But if Massie is around for the first game, I think he starts.
RG — Jonathan Cooper. He’s in great shape. He doesn’t have any of the issues left from a broken leg or turf toe or any of the other problems he might have had. If Cooper is going to become the player the Cardinals hope he can be, this is the season he needs to do it. His confidence clearly has never been higher, and he comes across as a different player than he was at this time last year. A big, big camp awaits.
C — A.Q. Shipley. This is an interesting spot. Shipley and Ted Larsen will battle in camp. OTAs and minicamp are what they are, but Shipley was the one getting more first-unit snaps by the end and he has history with both Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. This will come down to how Shipley and Larsen perform in games. (And if they both struggle, I wouldn’t completely write off the idea of a Lyle Sendlein return either, as long as he remains a free agent.)
LG — Mike Iupati. For a second straight year, the big free-agent purchase was an offensive lineman. Iupati’s reputation is that of excellent run blocker and a guy who needs to work on his pass blocking. Iupati certainly looks the part, and it will be fun to watch him in pads during camp and see what collisions develop.
LT — Jared Veldheer. The Cardinals wanted a left tackle and after one season, it looks like they have gotten a pretty good one.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Andre Ellington, Bobby Massie, Carson Palmer, D, Darren Fells, J. Humphries, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Ted Larsen, Troy Niklas
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Every year the website profootballfocus.com compiles a list of players it dubs “secret superstars” — guys who are under the radar but have the potential to break out in some way, shape or form. Their choice for the Cardinals is tight end Darren Fells, which makes a lot of sense given the circumstances.
It’s pointed out that Fells does his best work as a blocker, and at this point, it’s obvious that is what Bruce Arians is looking for first from his tight ends. What strikes me is Fells’ possibility as a leader at the position. Fells is modest, in keeping with his humble NFL beginnings being late to the party after playing professional basketball overseas. He is still inexperienced but he isn’t young — he’s 29 — and the tight ends room needs a voice now that John Carlson has retired. He is definitely playing with more confidence now than he did when he showed up in 2013 or even late last season when he was getting some playing time.
“Superstar” is a loaded term. Fells isn’t going to turn into Antonio Gates. (At least, I don’t think he will.) The Cardinals will need more from the position. Troy Niklas, another blocker-first, is a guy who has to come along, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see GM Steve Keim bring in a veteran tight end when training camp begins. But on a team that needs steady tight end play, I think PFF is on the right track in pegging Fells as a guy who can deliver.
Tags: Darren Fells, Pro Football Focus, Steve Keim, Troy Niklas
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The surprising decision of tight end John Carlson to retire Tuesday — after taking part in Monday’s Phase 2 on-field workout — has left the position in an interesting situation. Yes, the Cards drafted a tight end (Gerald Christian, the last pick in the draft) but you have to think the Cards might have seriously considered taking a tight end earlier had they known Carlson was about to leave the game.
(It should be noted this draft class was considered relatively weak at tight end.)
The Cardinals have high hopes for Troy Niklas, 2014’s second-round pick, and they like Darren Fells too as he makes his transition from former professional basketball player overseas. But is that enough? Is Christian enough? Can they find something they like in deep roster fodder like Ifeanyi Momah — signed after the NFL veterans combine — or Ted Bolser? You figure they’d have to consider a veteran, someone like Zach Miller or Jermaine Gresham, although the injuries for guys like that are the reason they’re still out there in the first place. Fells is a smart guy, someone I could see being a leader at some point now that Carlson is gone. But he knows where he has come from, that he had to work just to stick on the practice squad two years ago. He might not have made the roster last year if Jake Ballard hadn’t retired. Now, he’s the vet. He’s been around the longest, he’s played the most NFL games. Stunning.
Tight end has never been a crucial part of the receiving offense for the Cards, so if Niklas and Fells can provide the blocking needed, that’s what Bruce Arians seeks. Fells actually showed some hands the few times the ball was thrown his way. Still, after talking to Niklas and Fells today, it’s Carlson’s leadership that will be missed the most.
Tags: Darren Fells, Ifeanyi Momah, John Carlson, Ted Bolser, Troy Niklas
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Rob Housler wasn’t coming back to the Cardinals. The team had decided to move on from the tight end and 2011 third-round pick, so he was always going to have a new address in 2015. It turned out to be Cleveland, where Thursday Housler worked out a one-year contract. He joins former Cardinals teammates Karlos Dansby and Jim Dray. Once the Cardinals drafted Troy Niklas last year, Housler’s days were probably numbered, and with Darren Fells emerging as a future possibility at tight end, the Cards had — along with John Carlson — the tight ends they needed.
Coach Bruce Arians has said he is hoping to add an H-back-type tight end. Right now, the Cards have five tight ends on the roster: Niklas, Fells, Carlson, Ted Bolser and Ifeanyi Momah.
Tags: Browns, Darren Fells, Ifeanyi Momah, John Carlson, Rob Housler, Ted Bolser, Troy Niklas
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