It’s a weird morning for me. For the first time in more than a decade, I am not at ASU, getting ready to take part in Pat’s Run. I did not participate in the first race, but I had run every one since then until today, and that had been the plan (I have a bib and everything). But a trip to spend some time with my brother – which I don’t get to do enough – came up, and sometimes, life happens.
I would’ve liked to be there, especially this year. The race falls on the anniversary of Pat Tillman’s death 13 years ago. I remember that morning – I was still a Cardinals beat writer for the East Valley Tribune – vividly. I was in the kitchen, bathrobe on, toddlers eating breakfast on a Friday when my cell phone rang. A producer I knew a little from a local station was calling to ask if I had heard that Tillman had been killed. I, like everyone, was stunned.
It was the day before the draft – that’s when the draft was still Saturday-Sunday, and the Cardinals would select Larry Fitzgerald with the third overall pick the next morning – but everyone gathered at the Cardinals’ Tempe training facility. It was supposed to be that last day before the draft, when guessing who got picked where was the topic, and instead, the organization was crushed. Former Tillman teammate Pete Kendall was asked to speak to the media, along with Michael Bidwill and Anthony Edwards. Meanwhile, Dennis Green was around but he didn’t look like he knew quite what to do – he was hired after Tillman was long gone; he had no personal connection unlike almost every other non-coach still in the organization.
These are the kind of things that are going through my head every year as Pat’s Run starts. I’m sorry I’m going to miss it.
Tags: Anthony Edwards, Dennis Green, Michael Bidwill, Pat Tillman, Pat's Run, Pete Kendall
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“What if” is a staple of sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular play, game, season or transaction, hindsight is everywhere. ESPN.com played the game recently, posting a “What If” draft moment for each team. For the Cardinals, it was an obvious but solid choice: What if the Cardinals had drafted Adrian Peterson over Levi Brown in 2007. That’s also a game all of us have played over and over, almost since that time.
My “What If” Cardinals draft moment creates a lot more debate, but it’s one that is fascinating to deconstruct. It also gives no clear answer, unlike Peterson/Brown. What if the Cardinals had drafted Ben Roethlisberger instead of Larry Fitzgerald in 2004?
First, the obvious. Fitz is the face of this franchise, and has been for many years. He’s beloved by the fans, and by ownership. He’s been a Hall of Fame football player. There is no angle in which you can say the Cardinals made the wrong decision by selecting Fitzgerald. He helped the Cardinals get to a Super Bowl (and it can be argued he basically carried them there.)
But again, what if?
Dennis Green wanted Fitz. The former coach laid the groundwork for taking the wide receiver anywhere he could, at one point emphasizing how athletic and talented incumbent but inexperienced quarterback Josh McCown was. Remember, this was 2004, a season before the Cardinals brought Kurt Warner in as really the only team in the NFL still willing to give Warner a shot at starting.
When Fitz was taken third overall, Eli Manning was already off the board, but Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were still on the board. I think the Cards would’ve taken Big Ben had they gone QB (but what if it had been Rivers – would the Giants had taken Big Ben, traded him to the Chargers for Eli, and then Roethlisberger was a Charger?)
If Roethlisberger had been a Cardinal instead of Fitz, Warner never comes to Arizona. The Cardinals did have Anquan Boldin coming off his huge rookie season, and he would have remained the Cards’ No. 1 receiver – and with no Fitz, he probably never has contract issues and sticks around. Would Denny still have stalled out as coach with Big Ben? Even if he did, and was fired, would Ken Whisenhunt – who as OC of the Steelers wouldn’t have had Roethlisberger to lead them to a Super Bowl win in 2005 – still be a hot coaching commodity to be hired by the Cardinals?
Would the Cards have found a way to the Super Bowl in 2008, and if they had, would they have seen the Ben-less Steelers? The Cardinals also wouldn’t have drafted Matt Leinart in 2006, and it’s hard to know exactly where Fitzgerald would have ended up in 2004.
What makes the Fitz draft choice so smart in hindsight is that the Cardinals have been able to bring in two veterans in for little – Warner and Carson Palmer – and have them play very well in Arizona. The Cards haven’t turned into the Browns, constantly searching for a quarterback – making a 2004 miss more of a lament.
Still, what if?
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger, Chargers, Dennis Green, draft, Josh McCown, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Steelers
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Bruce Arians watched his team Friday night. And he knows the Cardinals did not play well, especially offensively. But he said this week was like any other, noting that Carson Palmer has played only about 20 plays thus far — not even a half’s work most games.
Arians also knows there is concern out there from the fan base. He matter-of-factly said while that’s expected, maybe it shouldn’t be.
“Tendency is to ‘Woe is me,’ ” Arians said. “But when our starters have played 15 plays, 20 plays maybe, that’s not even a good half. We’ve had bad halves before and come back and won games. It’s not a doomsday situation by any stretch of the imagination.”
The game in Houston this week is going to be a better and more important barometer. But with all due respect to Denny Green, it still will not be the end-all, be-all as a foretelling of the regular season, whether the Cardinals play well or play poorly.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Dennis Green, training camp
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The passing of former coach Dennis Green came as a surprise last week. It was also a little bit a surprise when Larry Fitzgerald — who had known Green much of his life — didn’t weigh in. Today, it became clear why, as Fitz was apparently working on a longer piece about his feelings for Green on The Players’ Tribune.
Green played a huge role in Fitz’s life. As Fitz notes right off the top, Green got him the only two jobs he’s had — as Vikings ballboy, and then drafting him to be a Cardinal. What struck me in the well-written article was the part where Fitz acknowledged the pressure he felt as the No. 3 overall pick, knowing the Cardinals could have instead drafted a Ben Roethlisberger or Philip Rivers.
“I also remember that after that initial wave of excitement wore off, I felt a lot of stress,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Because I knew that I wasn’t just another player that the Cardinals were taking a chance on. I knew Coach had a big hand in having the team draft me with the No. 3 pick when they could have taken guys like Ben Roethlisberger or Philip Rivers. The Cardinals already had a young Pro Bowl receiver in Anquan Boldin. Wide receiver wasn’t a need position for them. So my emotions went from joy to feeling a lot of pressure. I didn’t want to let Coach Green down. I knew I had to go out there and perform well so people would know that he had done that he did a good job evaluating me. All I wanted was to do right by him.”
I don’t think there’s any question Fitzgerald made Green look good with the pick. It didn’t hurt that the Cardinals and Green eventually signed Kurt Warner, too, so that helped the cause.
Having covered that team, there was never really any question the Cardinals and Green were going to target Fitz. Even now, Fitz jokes that he could have been the No. 1 overall pick if it hadn’t been for Josh McCown-to-Nate Poole. But that was only part of a relationship that started when Fitz was 9, and why last week’s news was such a blow to the future Hall of Famer.
Tags: Dennis Green, Larry Fitzgerald
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The Cardinals officially announced this year’s training camp dates today, with players reporting for the run test July 31 and the first practice — open to the public too — coming Aug. 1. If you feel like that’s late, it’s because it is. The Cardinals usually report at least a week earlier but that’s because the season usually starts earlier. Rules say camp can start 15 days ahead of the first preseason game, and the preseason games work backward from the regular season. The Cards’ first preseason game isn’t until Aug. 15 — hosting the Kansas City Chiefs — because the regular-season opener isn’t until the Saints visit Sept. 13. The Saints game is so late, of course, because the NFL doesn’t want to open on Labor Day weekend, and Labor Day comes as late as it can this year, on Sept. 7.
The last time the Cardinals started camp so late was 2004, when Labor Day fell on Sept. 6 and the Cardinals opened the regular season in St. Louis on Sept. 12. That was also Denny Green’s first season, when the team reported to Flagstaff Aug. 1. (And Green shocked everyone by cutting starting center Pete Kendall that day, the jumping-off point to a wild roller-coaster of a season.)
In all, there are 19 open practices at University of Phoenix Stadium. Sure, there are about seven weeks before football starts but I know I’m ready for some down time. It’ll be here soon enough.
Tags: Chiefs, Dennis Green, Pete Kendall, training camp
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First-round draft pick D.J. Humphries signed his contract earlier this week, the last of the seven Cardinals draft picks to do so, and the June 1 date was a couple of days earlier than Deone Bucannon’s scribble on the dotted line in 2014. Clearly, the timetable has shifted with rookie signings, as we went over a few weeks ago. In the spirit of those one-time rookie signing sagas (and today being a Throwback Thursday and all) I recall one interesting moment in 2006 when Matt Leinart was still unsigned as a rookie, the Cardinals were in training camp and Denny Green — still two months from letting the world know the Bears may or may not need to be crowned — wasn’t all that thrilled.
So Green brought a memorable (if less publicized than the one about the Bears) rant, letting everyone know he wanted Leinart signed already. The question that elicited the response? Well of course, it was someone asking about how Karlos Dansby was doing with his nagging toe injury.
That’s why I remember it so much. The question was about Dansby.
Some quick background. The Cardinals were about to head to New England to play the Patriots in a Saturday night preseason game. On this Monday, someone wanted to see how Dansby was doing. Green, who may or may not have planned ahead of time to say something about Leinart one way or the other (rumors say he did), began his nearly four-minute monologue, which can be heard by clicking here. Measured to be sure (unlike that other answer) but sure in its tone. Green also made it his last comment of the presser — just like that night after the Bears.
A morsel from that day: “I look forward to going to New England. I look forward to Kurt Warner going on the field, looking over and seeing Tom Brady — who was not the 10th pick in the draft, he was in the (sixth) round, so it’s not always about the draft,” Green said. “It’d be a shame if Matt Leinart is still sitting there as the only guy in the National Football League who is not in the National Football League.”
It only mattered for about six hours. By the early evening, Leinart had agreed to terms. As you can see here in my story from the next morning (remember newspapers?) the quarterback’s side insisted Green’s comments had nothing to do with moving things along. Either way, it made for great theater.
Tags: contracts, Dennis Green, Matt Leinart
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At Denny Green’s first training camp in 2004, the roster was in constant flux. That was the camp in which Pete Kendall was axed as he came in to take his physical on report day, and a few weeks later, when the team spent an extra week in Prescott following their Flagstaff stint, there was a revolving door on the roster. I remember a couple of veterans being signed the first day in Prescott and getting released a day or two later, without getting in a game or anything (if memory serves, I think one was DE Joe Tafoya, who a couple years later re-signed and played some with the Cards.)
That’s what went through my mind Thursday with new players coming in and seeing O’Brien Schofield. He walked out on the field for the conditioning test — shaking hands with rookie linebacker Alex Okafor at one point — before going back to the locker room with someone from the front office. It didn’t look promising at the time for the fourth-year linebacker and it wasn’t — he was released on the day when tackle Eric Winston and linebacker John Abraham (along with the inexperienced LB Kenny Rowe) were added.
For those keeping track at home, by the way, the Cards have a pair of open roster spots still, after Ryan Swope was placed on the reserve-retired list.
It was a head-spinning day. The action all came from Steve Keim’s men upstairs, even while the players got in a conditioning test that was mostly a formality in this day and age when guys are always in condition. “It’s a cold business some days,” coach Bruce Arians said, and that was underscored Thursday.
— O’Brien Schofield is a good guy. Great in the locker room. A great story, after blowing out his knee in Senior Bowl practices back in 2010. Worked hard to rehab and to become an pass rushing force at outside linebacker. But he never was able to make that solid step forward, and when he suffered yet another serious injury last year when Darnell Dockett fell on his leg, and a new coaching staff came in, that doesn’t bode well for guys like Schofield. He’d be here if the Abraham signing hadn’t worked out. But with Abraham and Acho and Alexander and Okafor around as outside linebackers — and that doesn’t include Matt Shaughnessy, who spent the offseason working mostly with the linebackers and not the defensive line. The numbers were daunting, and Schofield found himself headed out.
— That Swope is now on the reserve-retired list because of concussions isn’t a shock. He suffered a concussion in an OTA early in the offseason and then was absent from the Cards’ facility. That’s never a good sign. Hindsight is 20/20, but as Keim said, the team knew the risk when they took Swope and decided at the time it was a good decision. They did have two sixth-round picks. Putting Swope on the reserve list does allow the Cards to keep his rights, interesting when Swope says in a statement that he plans to reassess his football career next year. Would he play again?
— Many props nationally for the Cards on getting Abraham and Winston. For the price, for this team. Arians said today talent was not going to be an excuse for this team, and while the other three teams in the division are impressive, Keim is doing what he can to get the Cards into the mix.
— Speaking of the division, Seahawks WR Percy Harvin is having hip troubles and coach Pete Carroll acknowledged surgery could be an option. Yikes.
— Winston, on Sirius XM NFL Radio, talking about his contract dealings with the Cards: “We started these conversations a while ago. Probably around, I would say, the end of OTAs and they kind of progressed through the summer and got to a point where we felt like it was right to go ahead and have a conversation. I flew into Arizona last week and we progressed on terms and we came to this point.”
I’m curious to see how the Abraham stuff came down too.
Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the roster churn continue. Interesting to hear Arians say he won’t make any judgements on the offensive linemen until Wednesday, when they’ve had some days in pads. Wednesday, the players are off. Would the Cards make more changes then?
Tags: Alex Okafor, Dennis Green, Eric Winston, Joe Tafoya, John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy, O'Brien Schofield, Percy Harvin, Ryan Swope
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Trying to figure out the depth chart in the offseason is always a sketchy thing, especially early on in the process. What happens in May can impact where the team is in September, but that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the lineup.
A quick story (and those of you who remember back to 2004, this may ring a bell): In Denny Green’s first offseason after taking over the Cardinals, he came in and made a host of changes right away, which you would expect, one being benching long-time left tackle L.J. Shelton and taking guard Leonard Davis (the same Davis who would later become a Pro Bowl guard in Dallas) and putting him at left tackle because, as Green put it, you can’t take a lineman No. 2 in the draft and pay him left tackle money to be a guard. So they made him a tackle.
That wasn’t unexpected. But at the end of OTAs that summer (in those days, minicamp was first, before OTAs, whereas now minicamp is the last part of the offseason), Green made a big deal about his depth chart. The Cardinals called an impromptu press conference on the final OTA day (most media would not have attended). First, Green called his team together and made a point of announcing his starting lineup heading into training camp — remember, the vets were about to disperse until then. He then did the same in front of the media.
Most spots were as expected. Two moves caught the attention at that point. One was the naming of Quentin Harris as free safety instead of Dexter Jackson. Jackson was coming off a six-interception year in his first season as a Card, but he had some back issues and more importantly, he and Green didn’t see eye to eye at all. Jackson was gone before the season started (and with all due respect to Q, now the team’s director of pro scouting, he was mostly a place-holder, starting the first three games that year before being benched for Ifeanyi Ohalete.) The other big deal at the time was Green naming Emmitt Smith the starting running back, a surprise to everyone (including Emmitt) after Marcel Shipp — now interning as a Cards’ coach — had run first-string the entire offseason until that point.
One move that didn’t bring any attention. Pete Kendall was named starting center.
That was a big deal six weeks later, when Kendall — who again, hadn’t been on the field since that day Green named him a starter — was cut on report day for training camp. Green said it was because the Cards needed a change; It was likely because Green thought Kendall had said something to the NFLPA about breaking rules in OTAs, which led to a league punishment. Whatever the reason, it was a drastic upheaval. (Alex Stepanovich was not Pete Kendall.)
Now, Bruce Arians is not Denny Green. I wouldn’t expect anything like the Kendall situation. But things are in flux. Jonathan Cooper is running second string right now. But yes, I expect him to be the first-string left guard sooner rather than later. Will it be by minicamp? By the start of training camp? By mid-preseason? We’ll see. Is Daryl Washington running second string as a message or because they want Karlos Dansby ready for those first four games? We’ll see. The same goes for other spots (like cornerback. Or outside linebacker). There is a long way to go before September rolls around and games count. One thing to keep in mind: Arians has reiterated a couple of times that he sees “starters” in all his different packages, offense and defense. It gives you a sense of how he views the depth chart.
Tags: Daryl Washington, Dennis Green, Dexter Jackson, Emmitt Smith, Jonathan Cooper, Karlos Dansby, L.J. Shelton, Leonard Davis, Marcel Shipp, Pete Kendall, Quentin Harris
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
What I remember most is that it seemed to come out of nowhere.
Before the tirade that let everyone remember Denny Green was who we thought he was, we had already gone through five or six minutes of his postgame press conference on that fateful Monday night. It had been an ugly ending, but Denny – who usually was grumpy with an edge after losses – seemed calm, almost shell shocked as the questions came.
Then came the query that set him off, a question that should have led Denny to a good place – one about what the Cards saw in the Bears’ offense that allowed the defense to dominate and forced QB Rex Grossman into six turnovers. Like a boulder rolling downhill, Green started slow and as the anger built, the response grew into its epic ending, when Green bellowed how the Cards “let ‘em off the hook!”
Quick side story – Denny had a similar moment in training camp that year. The day rookie holdout Matt Leinart finally signed, two weeks into camp, tension was building on when he would do so. I was told Green was going to go off on Leinart in his lunchtime presser, and lo and behold, that’s what happened. Denny was asked about how linebacker Karlos Dansby’s injury was doing. A five-minute monologue later, Green was talking about what a shame it was that Leinart wouldn’t play in New England that weekend for the preseason game, when Kurt Warner would and when Tom Brady would, and Green clearly was irritated Leinart wasn’t there. Wonder if Denny knew Leinart was about to sign? Regardless, I don’t see the Bears’ rant as that calculated.
But back to the crowning moment in Denny’s Arizona tenure. The roots of the speech came back in August – a week after that New England trip – when the Cards beat the Bears in the third preseason game in Chicago and both Warner and Leinart played well. Grossman was terrible against the Cards, so much so that the Chicago fans booed him relentlessly. That was what was rattling around Green’s mind less than two months later.
The Cards were already ornery because of how things were going. After winning the first regular-season game at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cards had lost four straight. Warner had been benched for Leinart. The Bears were coming to town with a 5-0 record. The big story during the week was actually Darnell Dockett signing a contract extension (although Leinart’s first start the previous week against the Chiefs caught everyone’s attention.)
Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about Leinart’s good game in the preseason and talked about that game meaning nothing, as a “glorified practice.” Green, hearing this, clearly didn’t agree and said as much, although it wasn’t exactly “who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bull.” At least, not yet.
Then came the game. The Cards dominated, and they lost. Green calmly answered most of the questions and then the one hit him the wrong way, especially with the leftover irritation with Smith’s comments percolating all week and the frustration of the season building (for instance, kicker Neil Rackers missing what should have been a game-winning field goal that night).
While the world watched – over and over – Denny’s rant and it was repeated everywhere, the fallout was quick. Offensive coordinator Keith Rowen was demoted the next day. The Cards’ season ran off the rails, and by the time the Bears made it to the Super Bowl, Green was out and Ken Whisenhunt was the coach. Super week, Denny’s words continued to echo, as everyone kept saying, in some way shape or form, the Bears were who we thought they were.
Tags: Bears, Darnell Dockett, Dennis Green, Karlos Dansby, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Lovie Smith, Matt Leinart, Neil Rackers, Revisionist history, Rex Grossman, Tom Brady
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
Despite the results of 2010, the Cards are still in the midst of their best stretch of football since moving to Arizona – which, of course, coincided with the hire of Ken Whisenhunt as head coach.
It came together relatively quickly. Dennis Green was fired the day after the 2006 season ended, and even though the players did their due diligence in taking the blame, ownership clearly had their thoughts on how the Cards had evolved – letting Green go, but extending the contract of GM Rod Graves and basically saying the roster was good enough with which to win, whoever the new coach was going to be.
Whisenhunt was one of the first candidates in to talk to the Cards – among the other candidates were new Panthers coach Ron Rivera and current Colts coach Jim Caldwell – and when Whiz first showed up, Bill Cowher hadn’t yet resigned (that was to come a day or so later, with Whiz as a potential replacement) and the Falcons were still considering him. By the time Russ Grimm arrived for an interview himself, Cowher had stepped down and Grimm was also a Steeler possibility.
Eventually, the Steelers moved in a different direction and Whisenhunt was brought back for a second interview, along with Mike Sherman (who has since become a college head coach). Rumors were flying that the Cards wanted Sherman, but that never happened and in fact, the Cards insisted Whisenhunt had already become the top choice. Less than two weeks after Green was fired, Whisenhunt was named the new coach and, as then-tackle Reggie Wells said, the Cards could “move on to the next phase.”
When the process started, the Cards were likely third on Whiz’s list. He was considered, after all, for the Falcons’ job and he was from the area, and he was considered for the Steelers’ job, and he had been there for six seasons already. But he insisted that after considering everything, he liked what the Cards had to offer an incoming coach. He didn’t come in boasting about potential playoff wins (like his predecessor) but a quiet confidence, saying, “we’re not trying to change the world.” His key players, part of the process in talking to Whiz ahead of time, were on board.
Then, under Whisenhunt, the Cards did some unprecedented winning, the most important aspect of the hire. And the reason that proved the decision to be the right one.
Tags: Bill Cowher, Dennis Green, Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Sherman, Reggie Wells, Revisionist history, Russ Grimm
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