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A late start to camp (and the season)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 17, 2015 – 10:37 am

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.

CampBloguse


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#tbt: Denny really, really wanted Leinart signed

Posted by Darren Urban on June 4, 2015 – 2:38 pm

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.


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Winston, Abraham and churning the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2013 – 5:26 pm

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?


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The depth chart in May

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2013 – 9:57 am

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.


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Revisionist History: Denny’s thoughts on the Bears

Posted by Darren Urban on June 28, 2011 – 5:18 pm

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.


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Revisionist History: Whiz’s arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2011 – 4:23 pm

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.


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Revisionist History: McCown produces Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2011 – 11:04 am

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

The Cardinals were sitting with the third overall pick in a draft heavy with quality quarterback options, so when the just-hired Dennis Green decided to cut incumbent veteran Jeff Blake in early February of 2004, it didn’t really raise any eyebrows (although it did lead to one of the greatest quotes I have ever collected, from Blake when talking about his career: “It’s not like I’ve played bad ball. I’ve just been on bad teams.”)

That changed quickly. So too did the future of the Cardinals.

Less than a week later, I happened to be at the Cards’ facility when Green was going to give what was expected to be an innocuous TV interview. No other reporters were there. Denny proceeded to say odds were “slim” the Cards would take a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft.

“Josh McCown, I think he is going to be a great one,” Green said. Wait … what? I was stunned.

(So were a couple of other print reporters, who worked around their absence by coming the next day in an attempt to get Denny to repeat himself. He wouldn’t – not as strongly. At one point one reporter said, “We’re trying to get you to say what you told Darren yesterday.” Denny’s response was classic Denny: “That was yesterday.”)

McCown’s résumé wasn’t long. He had made the miracle pass to beat the Vikings in the season finale of 2003. He had five touchdowns and six interceptions in a three-game starting stint, but with a new coach, it just seemed like the Cards would nab someone like Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.

The new coach was Green, however. As became evident soon, his belief in Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald – with whom Green was also close personally – was strong enough to make Fitz the Cards’ target. Clearly, Fitz was talented, and Green’s thoughts on what Fitzgerald could be have definitely played out over the years. Yet quarterback is always important, and regardless of how talented Fitzgerald would be, was it worth passing on what was available? You have to wonder, did it color Green’s evaluation of McCown? Because the only way the Cards could really justify taking Fitz at the time was the knowledge McCown could play. Green never was big with the draft smokescreens. I remember at the Scouting combine in 2005 he all but announced he wanted J.J. Arrington. In 2004, it was obvious he wanted Fitzgerald.

Draft weekend was a memorable couple of days. Pat Tillman’s death came to light on Friday, the day before the draft, overshadowing football. Then, as expected, the weeks of Green talking up McCown was capped when the Cards took Fitzgerald. (Green also kept to his word about the first three rounds, taking non-QBs Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett in one heck of a first-day draft haul. John Navarre was the QB selected, in the seventh round.) McCown was the Cardinals’ guy.

I believe the Cards would have taken Roethlisberger if they had decided on a quarterback. How different would things have been for so many connected to the Cards? Big Ben and no Fitz in Arizona probably would have meant Anquan staying and Kurt never coming. Would the Steelers – with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – won a Super Bowl after the 2005 season? Would Whiz still have ended up with the Cards?

In the long term, it worked out well for the Cards. Warner and Whisenhunt did come to the desert, a combination that led to a Super Bowl appearance. McCown – one of the greatest guys ever to come through the Cards’ locker room – didn’t work out. But without him, there was no way the Cards take Fitzgerald, a potential Hall of Famer.


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DRC/PP expectations

Posted by Darren Urban on May 18, 2011 – 3:05 pm

Patrick Peterson was blunt when asked about wanting to have an NFL “island” as a cornerback, a la Darrelle Revis. “I don’t want an island,” he said. “I want a universe.” Alrighty then. That’s a pretty big area. You have to assume, in such a universe, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would have to be part of the equation.

Just what will the Cardinals have with the DRC/PP combination – not yet forgetting Greg Toler, who won’t have the draft pedigree of the other two but arguably will be the best tackler? (We have yet to see what Peterson brings to the table in terms of tackling, but for now, keep the DRC comments to yourself.)

Because neither has been around, it’s difficult to get a feel for how the duo – or trio, including Toler – will fit together. Here’s what we know: DRC acknowledged last season he didn’t play as well as he could or should have, and he must improve (note I didn’t say “master”) the art of tackling. Toler can play physically, but he remains raw as a cornerback. Peterson has to learn the NFL game period.

The last time the Cards took a cornerback high in the draft, Antrel Rolle certainly entered a different situation. The starting cornerbacks at the time were David Macklin and Robert Tate, and with all due respect to those guys, DRC and Toler are a better duo. The year the Cards took Rolle, they also took Eric Green in the third round, which shows you how much they needed cornerbacks. Rolle was late arriving to camp but was still going to jump into the lineup sooner rather than later; this was Dennis Green as coach. He had no problem thrusting rookies in the lineup. Peterson has Ken Whisenhunt as coach, and if anything, Whisenhunt has shown he’ll slow it down for rookies and playing time if he has a feasible alternative and Toler qualifies.

(Toler, at the least, should be able to be a solid nickel cornerback in a league where three cornerbacks are often needed.)

One thing is guaranteed, and that’s the confidence both DRC and Peterson own. Perfect for their position, and necessary. As has been noted many times, whomever plays cornerback will need a steady pass rush to achieve high-profile status. But if DRC can take his 2009 season and ratchet it up, and Peterson becomes the player everyone keeps saying he should be, high expectations should be the bar the two are able to reach.


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Revisionist History: Warner’s arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on May 12, 2011 – 3:30 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

We all know what Kurt Warner did for the Arizona Cardinals. We all know the power of his decision to retire.

At the time he arrived, though?

In this first installment of “Revisionist History” (which isn’t so much revising how people should think about a moment for the Cardinals since coming to Arizona as much as reminding them the mindset at the time), a glance back at when the Cards first signed Warner in March of 2005. Denny Green was in his second year as coach. Warner was coming off a benching for the Giants. The Cardinals were coming off a season in which Josh McCown, Shaun King and John Navarre were the quarterback-merry-go-round for Denny.

So Warner was signed. Both local papers compared the decision to the Cards signing Emmitt Smith a couple of years before (“Desperate teams – and desperate players – do desperate things” wrote the Tribune’s Scott Bordow). Remember, Warner only signed a one-year contract in 2005. He re-signed a three-year deal before 2006, and then the Cards took Matt Leinart in the draft, much to his chagrin.

I remember doing a big story on Warner (part one and part two) right before minicamp (that’s a Warner shot from that camp below). There was still much to prove. His halcyon days as a Ram were far behind him, his rebirth with the Cards under Ken Whisenhunt far ahead, relatively speaking. (I mean, I remember how he was showered with boos after the early-season Rams’ loss in 2006. Leinart was the starter soon after, and before the infamous Monday Night Meltdown against the Bears, Kurt was already considering retirement after the season. Can you imagine had he done that, and not had his run in ’07, ’08 and ’09?)

One thing was for certain, Warner still very much believed in himself, and always did, regardless of the circumstances of the team or even Leinart’s showing as a rookie.

A couple of quotes from my Warner opus stand out, especially in retrospect. The first: “It’s kind of my story, the underdog story, no chance to have success. It’s kind of like what I stepped into in St. Louis. I get a chance to rewrite my story and I get a chance to rewrite the story of the Arizona Cardinals.”

There is no question he did.

The second quote? “I am moving my family, I am buying a home and I am believing things are going to work out great. The great thing about it is so much of it depends on me.”


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Emmitt’s last ride

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2011 – 3:43 pm

The news today that running back Tiki Barber is coming out of retirement at age 35 after sitting out four seasons brought with it a lot of analysis (and smart-aleck comments), and a lot of comparisons. Mike Sando wrote a nice piece on the once-rumored Jim Brown comeback in 1983 (I remember that SI cover, and the stir Brown caused at the time) and also touched on the elite backs who finished out their careers — not in great ways — as older players in the NFC West. Guys like Franco Harris, O.J. Simpson and yes, Emmitt Smith.

I did notice, however, that of the players listed, Smith ended up with the best final season of any of them, gaining 937 yards in Denny Green’s first season, and scoring nine touchdowns. That’s what I remember about Emmitt back then, that he certainly didn’t have the burst to break any big runs but he still had a knack for the goal line once you got him inside the 10. He wasn’t exactly playing for an offensive juggernaut in 2004 either — I think he would have easily punctured 1,000 yards rushing had he had a little better of a unit around him.

The other thing I remember concerning Emmitt’s end game? He didn’t want it to be the end. I was at his retirement press conference at that year’s Super Bowl in Jacksonville. Emmitt still gave thanks to a lot of Cardinals’ people, but it was a Cowboys’ event all the way, with Dallas helmets and owner Jerry Jones. Yet Emmitt wanted to come back to the Cardinals in 2005. His side had reached out to the organization, but by then — correctly — the Cards were ready to move on at running back.


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