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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2017 – 11:40 am

With about a month left before training camp (already?!?), it’s time to take a look at who I think the offensive starters will be come Sept. 10, when the Cardinals play the Lions in Detroit to begin the regular season. Could a training camp signing change things? Sure. I see more of a chance of that defensively than offensively.

My defensive thoughts are here. And after that, the blog posts will slow. Time off coming.

QB – Carson Palmer. You can’t get anywhere without a quarterback. Palmer finished strong in 2016. He’s a year older, yes, and no one is calling him a top-five QB. But he’s still very good when the offense functions well, and when his receivers don’t let him down.

RB – David Johnson. MVP-type player. Is he going to get 100 scrimmage yards every game? Maybe not, but he’s certainly going to have the opportunity. With his skills, and health, I’m not ruling out a 1,000-1,000 season.

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. After Bruce Arians had said more than once Fitz’s 100-catch days were behind him, Fitz has had two straight 100-catch seasons. Won’t be surprised to see him do it again. The question will be, is this his last season?

WR – Smokey Brown. He says he’s healthy. The Cards need him to be. Rookie Chad Williams may have an intriguing future, but this year, the Cardinals need the I-can-get-1,000-yards John Brown.

TE – Jermaine Gresham. So many have questioned his new large contract. But he’s been the best tight end the Cards have had since he showed up, and he does deliver some intangibles on the field this team can use.

TE – Troy Niklas. It’s a leap, yes, to assume Niklas will stay healthy. But every time, in the brief times, Niklas has been on the field, they like what he has brought. He’s not going to be a big pass-catcher. But he can block and he’ll play an important role – again, if he’s on the field.

LT – D.J. Humphries. He’s better suited for the left side. It’s tough for Jared Veldheer, but given ages and the future, this was all but predetermined when Humphries was drafted.

LG – Mike Iupati. Wasn’t as good in 2016 as he was in 2015, but I expect a rally. It’s important too – given his salary going forward, his age and the drafting of Dorian Johnson, the spotlight will be bright.

C – A.Q. Shipley. Showed the Cardinals he could start in this league. No reason to think he won’t again.

RG – Evan Boehm. I don’t see Johnson jumping into this job. Not yet. This is probably the second-most likely spot Keim could grab a vet, behind only No. 2 cornerback. But as it stands, Boehm is probably going to be out there.

RT – Jared Veldheer. Veldheer didn’t want to move from left to right tackle, but he did for the good of the team. Is there a transition to be made? Yes. Somehow, I don’t have much concern that Veldheer will make it work successfully.


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Peterson, David Johnson are top 20

Posted by Darren Urban on June 19, 2017 – 6:58 pm

The NFL Network’s top 100 list is coming to a close, and the Cardinals don’t figure to have anyone in the top 10. But they did have a couple players land in the top 20 Monday night.

Patrick Peterson went 6-for-6 in his career on the list, landing at 19th overall — right around where he has been the past couple of seasons. His ranks, going backwards in time, previously were No. 18, No. 19, No. 22, No. 33 and No. 55. During the season, Peterson had three interceptions, also went 6-for-6 in Pro Bowls during his career, and was again considered one of the best (if not the best) “traveling” cover guys in the league — in other words, a cornerback who follows around the opposition’s top receiver.

Then there was David Johnson, who in his second year, debuted on the top 100 list at No. 12. Like Peterson, a high ranking was a no-brainer for Johnson. Here’s a guy who likely would have been in the MVP talk if the Cardinals hadn’t slumped record-wise, and who would have been the first NFL player to have 100 scrimmage yards in every game of a season had he not suffered his scary (but ultimately, not devastating) knee injury early in the season finale. Johnson had 1,279 rushing yards, 80 catches for 879 yards and 20 total touchdowns. He led the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage.

Linebacker Chandler Jones was No. 85 on the list, while wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was No. 45 as the only other two Cardinals to appear.


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Holt sees some Faulk in David Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2017 – 10:22 pm

Torry Holt is helping coach the Cardinals receivers this week, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate the running game. In his years as a Pro Bowl wideout with the Greatest Show On Turf, he played with one of the greatest running backs in NFL history: Marshall Faulk. Tuesday, Holt said he could see comparisons to the Cardinals’ excellent running back, David Johnson.

“Marshall did everything, and I see (David) the same way,” said Holt (pictured below with wide receivers John Brown, left, and Marquis Bundy). “He can do a little bit of everything.”

Last year, during a brief visit to the Cardinals’ facility, former Cardinals (and Cowboys) running back Emmitt Smith compared Johnson to Bills great Thurman Thomas in terms of their all-around games. And that was before Johnson had his marvelous second season.

Johnson earns the Faulk comparison from Holt.

“He’s smooth,” Holt said. “He’s bigger than Marshall. But he can run, run between the tackles, run on the outside and he can catch. Those are where the similarities are. Again, size is different. I haven’t been in the meeting room with (Johnson) yet so I don’t know where his football IQ is. Marshall was extremely smart with the game.

“But there are some similarities in their games, particularly with catching the ball out of the backfield. (Johnson) is very smooth.”

Holt mentioned one other running back who he thought was as natural catching the ball as Faulk and Johnson — Bengals rookie Joe Mixon.


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Cardinals celebrations? “Chandler likes to dance”

Posted by Darren Urban on May 24, 2017 – 1:54 pm

Here’s the thing about the new relaxed celebration rules in the NFL — I’m not sure exactly how much they’ll impact the Cardinals. They don’t exactly have a group of guys pining to make a scene post-play. On our latest podcast, we were talking about a power poll of Cardinals who were most likely to take advantage. I mean, it’s not going to be Larry Fitzgerald (“That’ll never happen,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Larry’s dance is dancing over to give the ball to the referee, which is what he’s supposed to do.”) We know Smokey Brown can dance, but his dance was already allowed in the rules and frankly, I don’t see him going much further than that. J.J. Nelson is pretty low key. David Johnson is definitely low key — it’s tough to embrace the nickname “Humble Rumble” and you know, not be humble.

Arians, in contrast to Marvin Lewis, is cool with the change. “I danced all the time when I scored touchdowns,” Arians said. “I didn’t get many. Danced my ass off when it happened.”

Arians, however, doesn’t figure to score at all these days. In terms of the current players? “I’m not really a dancing type of guy,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said, when asked about his potential plans. “I do love the fact the league is allowing players to show their personality, not putting us in handcuffs. I think it’s a great win for the players.”

Peterson’s first choice in the locker room “probably would’ve been Tony,” but alas, Tony Jefferson has moved to Baltimore.

“Chandler,” Peterson said. “Chandler likes to dance.”

Indeed, Chandler Jones came to my mind first. He’s further removed from the more buttoned-up culture of New England. He has the security of the long-term contract. And he definitely likes to have fun. Jones was asked about the new overtime rule but he said the celebration rule move was the “one that matters” to the defensive players.

Jones did say there wouldn’t be any choreography or dance practice. “That’s when it gets out of hand” and away from football, he said. But, he added, “I’ll have something cooking for sure.”

 


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Behind Johnson, the look of running back room

Posted by Darren Urban on May 19, 2017 – 9:45 am

When you have arguably the best running back in the league — certainly in the top two or three — who can both rush and catch the ball with any back out there, the notion of who is behind him can get lost. But then it was reported this week, before LeGarrette Blount signed with the Eagles, that the Cardinals showed some interest. It raises the question, with the team moving on from veteran Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington giving wide receiver a shot, just how that depth chart will fill out behind David Johnson.

As it stands right now, Kerwynn Williams figures to be the top running option behind Johnson. Williams has earned that nod over the years; he has produced on the ground when he has gotten the chance. T.J. Logan, the rookie fifth-round pick, is a virtual lock to make the roster. His kickoff return skills alone help, and from what little I have seen in the OTAs and rookie minicamp, the speed on display after catch a short pass is a very real threat.

Beyond that? Ellington could still officially end up as a running back, although it feels like in many ways his and Logan’s skillsets are similar. Big Elijhaa Penny seems to be the wild card. Is he the big back the Cards could use between the tackles if needed? Do the Cardinals need to add someone at some point? I’ve never gotten the sense the Cardinals felt a strong need to add another vet back — it was a little surprising to hear Blount caught their attention — but that’s part of what OTAs and minicamp will be for, to sort that need out. It would never be surprising to have the Cardinals decide to make a late signing either. That’s what happened with Chris Johnson, and with GM Steve Keim, you never rule out that possibility.


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From here, the question of adding vets

Posted by Darren Urban on May 3, 2017 – 4:53 pm

The Cardinals got through the draft and made their picks. No QB. No cornerback drafted early, but the defense got some potential impact playmakers. They collected 17 undrafted rookies, adding an Ironhead and a Gump and QB was served by a Knight, although we’ll see what that truly means. The Cardinals are in the middle of Phase 2 work — that goes on exclusively for another week — and then OTAs will start May 16 and the meat of the offseason work will commence.

There will be moves here and there. There will be tryout players at the rookie minicamp next week and a couple will inevitably be signed, at the cost of a couple of other players on the roster. That’s happened every year in the Bruce Arians era. There will have to be a decision made about what to do with Daryl Washington (no, that has not yet happened.) And then there is the idea of a Keim Time Sign, a pickup of a veteran by GM Steve Keim anytime between now and into training camp that could end up making the roster by the beginning of September. A quick handicapping of the positions he could look at:

Offensive line: The Cards signed Tony Bergstrom Wednesday. He’s likely a depth guy rather than someone who figures to have a chance to start should he make the team. He’s played center of late, and with Evan Boehm working as the first-string right guard, the Cards needed someone to back up A.Q. Shipley, if not compete with him.

Quarterback: The news was out that the Cards at least worked out Blaine Gabbert. We’ll see if that turns into anything. It’d give them an extra arm with experience, and with as much as they have talked about managing Carson Palmer’s practice load, maybe adding another QB right now makes sense.

Running back: I don’t know if the draft closed the door on Chris Johnson, but it seems like it might have. T.J. Logan is young, fresh legs, and they like what they have seen out of Elijhaa Penny. Kerwynn Williams has shown he can run the ball, and after all, David Johnson is David Johnson.

Cornerback: This is the big position. Justin Bethel figures to run with the first unit, at least to begin with. It’ll be hard to see where Budda Baker fits in early because the Washington spring quarter doesn’t end until early June (the final minicamp day is June 8) and he’ll miss most offseason work. The Cards have some mix-and-match possibilities, but right now, it’s Bethel or Brandon Williams in line to start opposite Patrick Peterson. Could the Cards pick up a veteran cornerback? I wouldn’t rule it out, although they may want to see how the offseason plays out a bit.


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The draft, prep, luck and David Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on April 27, 2017 – 11:46 am

Steve Keim was asked about the draft being about luck.

“There is always some luck involved,” the Cardinals’ general manager said. “But through preparation you can get a little luckier.”

That’s how the Cards ended up with David Johnson, of course. It’s a story everyone knows well now, thanks to the “All of Nothing” series. The Cardinals were set to draft running back Ameer Abdullah in the second round in 2015. The Lions traded up, one spot in front of the Cardinals, to get Abdullah — who would have been the running back they were looking for.

The Cards were disappointed. But they traded down a couple of spots (to get an extra pick) and went after pass rusher Markus Golden in the second round. That’s where the prep came in — they liked Golden a lot, even though many wondered if Golden could be productive in the NFL as he had at Missouri. Lo and behold, Golden has been, leading the Cardinals in sacks last season. Then the Cardinals went after the next running back on the board, a relative unknown from Northern Iowa who has just happened to turn into one of the best running backs in the league.

The grades were right for the Cardinals. In both cases, some wondered why the Cards took both those guys as early as they did. It worked out — although luck was involved too. It’s a scene that still echoes around the franchise, given the two players who were picked.


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Meghan Johnson is David’s wife – and critic

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2017 – 9:28 am

There is little question David Johnson is his own harshest critic. As he was setting records a season again, the running back constantly talked about what he didn’t do right or what he needed to improve. To be fair, coach Bruce Arians did the same, but Johnson — with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns — stuck it to himself often.

One example: Johnson noted his biggest weakness. “Mainly get better at pass protection. I definitely missed a lot of blocks … definitely hurt Carson (Palmer), got him sacked or made him rush the throw.”

Apparently, his wife Meghan — who had a role in the Amazon series “All or Nothing” — has “helped” him in that process.

“B.A. is hard on me, my wife is hard on me, everyone is hard on me,” Johnson said with a smile.

How is your wife hard on you?

“She’s always the one telling me I had a fumble, or I missed some catches,” Johnson said. “She’s learning. That’s what happened. She’s learning football, so now she’s able to talk to me about the plays I missed. We talk about it all the time.”

To be fair, Johnson said Meghan does praise him. “She’s my biggest supporter,” he said. “But she knows me. I’m always trying to see what I mess up on and she’ll let me know.”


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David Johnson? Yeah, he’s looking good

Posted by Darren Urban on March 22, 2017 – 2:31 pm

Rehab seems to be going quite nicely.


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David Johnson says he’s healthy, “full throttle”

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2017 – 2:18 pm

Playing in Kurt Warner’s annual flag football tourney Saturday, David Johnson didn’t have to do much — the players involved are the all-time quarterbacks for their teams, which basically means grabbing the ball and standing there until someone gets open.

(Although I saw a first in all my years at this event, which started in 2004. Falcons wideout Mohamed Sanu — pictured below, laughing with Johnson — actually played defense for his team a couple of times.)

Johnson has some work to do as a quarterback. But as for his day job — and the knee injury he suffered late in the season — all is better now.

“My wheel is good,” Johnson said. “Good to go already. Back training, full throttle. Doing everything.”

He admitted he got a “harsh reminder” not to do things like jump out of pools, which he had put up on social media while rehabbing.

“I just wanted to show people I was back and ready to go,” Johnson said. Back to 100 percent? “For sure,” he said.


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