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The fourth outside linebacker is around

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2017 – 11:11 am

The news Deone Bucannon won’t play Sunday — not a huge shock, even without the setback of an ankle sprain — puts on hold what the Cardinals will do with rookie Haason Reddick when Bucannon, Reddick and Karlos Dansby are all available. Reddick will be needed to play in Bucannon’s role, at least in certain packages.

But it also goes to that concern lingering as soon as the Cards cut to 53 and, at least outwardly, the team only kept three outside linebackers. What about depth? What about a fourth behind Markus Golden, Chandler Jones and Kareem Martin? Coach Bruce Arians mentioned that veteran Philip Wheeler, signed as an inside linebacker, worked in practice recently on the outside and can play both spots. Defensive lineman Josh Mauro has occasionally taken reps at OLB and could serve there in a pinch, especially on running downs. But then there is Reddick.

Reddick, who played defensive end in college, slowly has gotten some reps as an outside ‘backer to build on his work on the inside. And once Bucannon is back, Reddick makes the most sense as a dual-threat guy, someone who can play on the inside in certain packages, who can rush the passer in certain packages, and who can also serve as that fourth guy behind Golden, Jones and Martin.

Again, versatility has been one of the hallmarks of the players GM Steve Keim has sought, especially on the defense. The linemen can play anywhere. The linebackers, mostly, can switch around. The defensive backs are interchangeable. That is how the Cards will solve that fourth OLB issue.


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Wednesday before the Broncos, Haden and punters

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2017 – 11:03 am

The last preseason game is upon us. None of the starters will be playing, and neither will some key backups. There are, in reality, very few spots left and while the game could mean something in a spot or two decision-wise, most of the choices could already be made now. The Cardinals know what they have. These next few days are about adjusting the roster, comings and goings that will be impacted by waiver claims, signings and maybe a trade.

— Lot of questions about whether the Cardinals would chase soon-to-be free-agent CB Joe Haden. I don’t expect it to happen, and there is a simple reason why. Haden isn’t close to the same player he was just a couple years ago, when he deserved to be in the same discussion with the Patrick Petersons of the world. He struggled last season and has struggled a lot this preseason. I’ll be interested to see what he can get on the open market, since the Browns do have a $4 million offset, and we’ll see if he signs for more than one year. But his body has been breaking down over the last couple of seasons. As with every player, I fully expect the Cardinals to at least evaluate the possibility. The likelihood of the Cards chasing him, when there are probably going to be many suitors, I would think would be low. Mostly because he isn’t the player he once was.

UPDATE: Adam Schefter reports the Steelers are signing Haden for a 3-year, $27M deal including $7 million this season. So that’s that.

— There is the punting battle between Matt Wile and Richie Leone, knowing that veteran Jeff Locke has been cut and reports say still-effective veteran Andy Lee could traded by Carolina. Lee took a pay cut, which makes his salary more manageable, and if the Panthers are willing to take a low-round pick, maybe that is a path the Cardinals consider.

— Other stuff to watch in the game, especially when the final roster, at least at the bottom, may come down to who will be active on game days (which means a lot for guys who play special teams.): Rookie Rudy Ford on special teams, since he is likely battling Harlan Miller for a final safety spot. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson on offense, against Brittan Golden on special teams. How well do guys like Cole Toner hold up on the offensive line? Can the Cardinals be comfortable with their offensive line depth?

— There will not be an injury report until a week from today. That gives three key players — G Mike Iupati (triceps), DT Robert Nkemdiche (calf strain) and LB Deone Bucannon (ankle) — one more week before we really get a sense of whether they will be ready to play the regular-season opener.

— Speaking of the waiver claims and trades that could happen (remember, any player claimed off waivers must remain on the 53-man roster for at least three weeks), in the Keim era, the Cardinals have been awarded three players on waiver claims (Thomas Kaiser, Alameda Ta’amu and Bradley Sowell) and aquired two players in trades (Marcus Cooper and Matt Barkley) during final roster cutdown time.

— I’ll post a guess at the 53-man roster soon after the last preseason game.


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Friday before the Falcons, in a new stadium

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2017 – 2:44 pm

So the Cardinals get to open a stadium Saturday. It just isn’t their own. They’ve done that before, and I remember that day – even though it was in my previous life with the East Valley Tribune. It was just the preseason opener, but the Steelers were in town and a fanbase thirsty for an indoor stadium finally had one. The atmosphere was excellent.

In the Georgia Dome the Falcons didn’t have as bad of a situation as the Cardinals did in Sun Devil Stadium. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl last season in that building. But the first game in a new palace means something, preseason or not. Honestly, the Cardinals couldn’t really get a better final test before the regular season. (No starters are going to play in Denver.)

A lot has been said about the length of camp, but realistically, the Cardinals are always going to have long camps because they need to be inside. As Bruce Arians said, putting 90 players (plus, including interns, some 30 coaches) inside the practice bubble in Tempe doesn’t make sense. But part of camp next year sounds likely to include a week against another team, so that certainly would break up the monotony.

— Without a lot of David Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s hard to really get a sense of what the Cardinals are going to have offensively no matter what happens in Atlanta. But no matter what Arians says, I do think that unit needs to have a couple of good drives early. Arians noted he’d like to see the pass protection be solid because the Cards struggled in that area in Atlanta last year.

— Speaking of the offensive line, here’s what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said his message was to the unit about their responsibility for Carson Palmer: “Either you protect him or I’m not going to protect you.”

Added Goodwin, “We have to do a better job, because we know he makes us go. Without him, it’s an uphill battle.”

— Defensively, you want to see better linebacker play than last week. Hopefully, the cornerbacks not named Patrick Peterson face some tests as well.

— It was good to hear Arians say he doesn’t think defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will miss a regular-season game. The key will be that first day of practice following the Broncos preseason finale. You want Nkemdiche in the lineup, but, like Deone Bucannon, if he misses the opener to make sure he’s around the rest of the season, you want to be smart.

— In my opinion, some of the battles still going on up and down the depth chart: Backup running back, although I think Chris Johnson has the edge on Kerwynn Williams; Backup inside linebacker between Josh Bynes and Philip Wheeler; and the sixth wide receiver between Brittan Golden and Jeremy Ross, and with an outside shot to Aaron Dobson (because of his speed).

— Another battle still wide open is punter. Arians said neither Matt Wile nor Richie Leone has separated themselves, and Arians didn’t rule out looking elsewhere. One plus is the 90-man roster through the last preseason game. The Cards can evaluate both punters two more games.


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Bears aftermath, thankfully with no OT

Posted by Darren Urban on August 20, 2017 – 12:19 am

The Cardinals scored a touchdown with three seconds left, and Bruce Arians did exactly what he had to do, down one point: He went for two.

“No. No. No way,” Arians said to the suggestion he’d even consider kicking there. “That’s against all rules of preseason football.”

Amen to that. Added bonus: When the pass fell incomplete — and Blaine Gabbert had Jeremy Ross wide open, so the play call was great — the final score was 24-23 … the exact score of the infamous Monday Night Meltdown loss to the Bears, the night Denny asked us all, rhetorically, what the third game of the preseason meant.

What did the third game of this Cardinals’ preseason mean? You’d like to see the first-team defense defend the run a lot better, especially since the top two Bears running backs didn’t play. Arians said the tackling was poor, and it’s clear the injuries at inside linebacker make a difference. You’d like to see the pass protection for Carson Palmer be a little better, but Arians said Palmer held the ball too long a couple of times.

No one is going to proclaim the Cards world-beaters in what they saw, but it was a typical second preseason game — again, even though it was the Cards’ third, that Hall of Fame game didn’t mean much with the starters. Next week, in Atlanta, against the defending NFC champs when the starters figure to play a whole half against the Falcons’ starters, that will be something to dissect. That’s where the Denny philosophy should kick in.

— The Cardinals need Karlos Dansby and Deone Bucannon back for the regular season. If that wasn’t apparent, it’s becoming moreso. Haason Reddick missed a little time because his arm was cramping, but the ILBs haven’t been stout. Arians said the run game defense issues were in part because of that position. “I’ll be concerned if we’re playing with the group we had tonight,” Arians said.

— That was such a Tyrann Mathieu-from-2015 interception. A welcome sight. It’s good he didn’t lose that fumble at the end of the run.

— I’m sure I’ll hear about this comment, but I thought Justin Bethel was solid and Brandon Williams obviously showed up. It sure looks like these ate the corners the Cards will roll with — Peterson, Bethel and the two Williamses — and it seems like that can work.

— Drew Stanton was not as on target as the week before. But he moved the Cards into field goal range. I’ll be honest, the way Phil Dawson had been kicking in practice, I thought he’d hit that one.

— The Cards are off Sunday, and have one week left of camp. The regular season gets closer.


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Friday before the Bears, a preseason meme

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2017 – 2:49 pm

The Bears, the Cardinals and really, who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bullspit? Bullspit!

I know it’s only Week 2 for the Bears — and frankly, for the Cardinals, who aren’t marching their main guys out for a half until next week’s Week 4/Week 3 game in Atlanta — so again, this is more of a ramp-up game. Bruce Arians isn’t calling plays until next week (that falls on QB coach Byron Leftwich again.) There will be around 20 plays for the starters, although as usual it could be less if each unit is effective. The biggest story in the game will probably be Chicago QBs Mike Glennon vs. Mitchell Trubisky, so we can see how Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson and company can mess with the immediate Bears future.

(In ’06, that Bears preseason game was Matt Leinart’s second appearance in the NFL, after playing on only a couple of days of practice — he signed late — in New England the week before. Leinart vs Warner. Those were the days.)

— It’ll be the first game for left tackle D.J. Humphries. Arians said Humphries did fine in his first practice Wednesday. I thought he had a slow start to Thursday’s work. As with the whole offensive line, he needs to ramp up — although again, with so much camp, there is plenty of time to get ready.

— Speaking of getting ready, the same goes for linebacker Karlos Dansby, who has been bothered by a leg issue. Deone Bucannon is ostensibly still on target to return to practice likely after the preseason games are over. Maybe a couple of days before. That inside linebacker crew could be a juggling situation for the first game. Haason Reddick is clearly still learning, and Scooby Wright, while solid on special teams, has shortcomings on defense. Both are players to watch against the Bears.

— DT Robert Nkemdiche has played well in the preseason but this week, the coaching clearly got harder. Nkemdiche is doing the right things as far as effort and intensity. But the technique must improve, because that is what will beat the better players in the regular season. Everyone has the talent.

— Others I’ll be watching in particular this week: Both punters; Kerwynn Williams on another punt return or two; the down-depth-chart receivers like Carlton Agudosi and Chris Hubert in particular since Brittan Golden (groin) likely won’t play; Justin Bethel and Tramon Williams (I haven’t forgotten about CB No. 2); and more Budda Baker.

— It’d be nice to see a little David Johnson but not too much.

— I’ll be curious to see how much John Brown plays. Smoke did much more in practice this week. But he certainly is not 100 percent, and the trainers keep a close eye on that quad injury. Still, Brown made some plays Thursday, and after one touchdown Larry Fitzgerald made sure everyone knew it was Smoke and then made sure to give Brown the side-five.

— Fitz, by the way, seemed like he was having a great time Thursday. For a guy who is usually tops on the list of wishing training camp wasn’t so long, it didn’t seem to be impacting him. That’s probably good, because after the game, there’s still one week left.


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Good news on Bucannon, not on Logan

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2017 – 11:04 am

A quick update long distance (thanks, streaming azcardinals.com) after practice today, before I head over to Canton for Kurt Warner’s induction.

— Good news on Deone Bucannon. Bruce Arians said he’s on target to return for the opener, due to get about a week of practice (although the coach admitted again he’d rather have the $LB get about 10 days in a perfect world.) The fact that Karlos Dansby (leg) is supposed to be returning to practice this week means the position hopefully is moving in the right direction health-wise.

— Not good news of rookie running back T.J. Logan. Kyle will have the full story soon, but he dislocated a wrist and needs surgery. Arians said Logan will be out 12 weeks and needs surgery. He will go on injured reserve, but the idea is that he’ll be back around Week 8 and would be one of the Cardinals’ returns from IR.

— LB Jarvis Jones is out a week with a disc issue.

— Arians said Blaine Gabbert “has a chance” to unseat Drew Stanton as the No. 2 QB, but there’s a long way to go, and Stanton knows the offense so much better.


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Resting Palmer again and Buc’s status

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2017 – 12:10 pm

If there was any doubt about how careful the Cardinals were going to be with QB Carson Palmer this camp in an attempt to have him ready for the regular season, he will be resting at Thursday’s practice, the second time he’s sat out through a mere five practices thus far.

“I like practice,” Palmer said. “I enjoy what I do in the practice aspect. I like throwing in blitz period and team period and 7-on-7 and routes on air. But I’m listening to the professionals, the people that have studied this and read and been to seminars. I’m going with the recovery process and what people tell me to do.”

Again, it’s important to remember that the Cardinals have an extra stretch of camp this year because of the fifth preseason game, so this is all bonus practice anyway, especially for a veteran like Palmer. It’s smart to slow-play it like this if he needs to protect his arm.

— Arians said $LB Deone Bucannon, on PUP with his ankle, is doing some running. No timetable for a return, but Arians said he’d want Bucannon to have at least a week if not more of practice before playing in the opener. We’ll see if Bucannon ends up hitting that target.

— The good news was no one got hurt at Tuesday’s practice. S Ironhead Gallon (knee) and LB Jarvis Jones (NFI-quad) are close to returning — Jones could practice Friday, Arians said. LB Alani Fua (knee) is going to miss 2-to-4 weeks, Arians said.


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Bucannon news means crash course for Reddick

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2017 – 4:15 pm

So the hope is that Deone Bucannon will be back for the beginning of the regular season, after the news that the linebacker recently had ankle surgery to repair the injury he had hoped rehab would solve. That means for the offseason — and into training camp, if not all of training camp — it’ll be No. 1 draft pick Haason Reddick who will step into the breach.

That’s fine — ultimately, Reddick figures to spend more time at inside linebacker than outside, and inside is where he was slated to spend the offseason anyway. Bruce Arians said Tuesday the Cardinals get that Reddick already knows how to rush the passer. Now it’s about learning the other position. But this also will make the latter stages of training camp and the beginning of the regular season very interesting. The inside linebacker corps becomes thinner now, much different than just a week ago when Bucannon was in the fold, Reddick could fill in and — at least briefly — there was a chance Daryl Washington might be in the mix. The Washington return was a non-starter, though, and now Bucannon is sidelined. If Bucannon comes back early in the season, it’s easy to forget it ever happened — does anyone remember that left guard Mike Iupati missed the first three games of the 2015 season because of a knee injury, only to return to Pro Bowl status in a 13-3 season?

The kind of guy Bucannon is, he’ll push hard to return quickly. I could see him being the kind of guy who may have to be told to take it easy and let the healing take place. In the meantime, though, Reddick is on deck.


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Potential ejections on “egregious” hits

Posted by Darren Urban on March 28, 2017 – 2:44 pm

Among the rules changes/updates made by the NFL owners Tuesday at their spring meetings here at the Arizona Biltmore was the decision to make as a point of emphasis the existing rule that “egregious” hits come with an ejection and/or a suspension even for first-time offenders.

That’s always a fine line. It makes sense, with the league trying to find ways to get safer, like banning leaps over the line to block kicks. In this case, the league hopes to have players more wary of going in for an “egregious” hit knowing an ejection may be forthcoming. (USA Today quoted Giants president John Mara as saying there were only about four such plays last year.) The problem, of course, is that for the player it isn’t always easy to make that call in the moment — like when Deone Bucannon, money linebacker, hit Bengals receiver A.J. Green in 2015, wasn’t penalized but was later fined for the hit. Bucannon had a similar bang-bang play against the Chargers in the 2016 preseason, but that was deemed clean.

“If you’re over there tip-toeing and trying to do everything perfect, that’s going to make you a worse player,” Bucannon said during 2016 training camp. “I’m not thinking about, ‘Oh, man, what the consequences are.’ I’ve got so many things I need to think about. I need to think about what I’m doing within the defense to help my team win the game. And then on top of that, you expect me in point-one second to (decide where to deliver a hit)? I can’t think about all that at the same time, but I’m going to train my body through practice so I can understand.”

D.J. Swearinger, now in Washington, had a couple of big hits this past season, but they were clean. It is still possible to do such things. The first time a player is actually booted for a hit, however, will make for a huge story.

UPDATE: Competition committee chairman Rich McKay emphasized that the consideration today was meant as a deterrent. “Don’t take that there could be a suspension for first-time offenders as ‘We’ve got a problem,’ ” McKay said. “We had three or four plays we showed the union, showed our coaches, and we recommended, that if a player isn’t ejected on the field — and that’s a difficult thing, we don’t get a lot of ejections for football plays — we recommend a suspension even for a first-time offense. … We don’t expect it to happen a lot, but it was a point of emphasis.”

 


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Keim: I expect Arians, Palmer, Fitz to return

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2016 – 8:21 am

At the heart of his team, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim thinks he has a pretty good idea he will have his top trio back next season. Asked Monday on his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim said “I know Coach (Bruce Arians) is coming back.” He did say Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald should be asked directly, but “based on conversations I had with them in training camp, I’d be surprised if they didn’t play next year.”

Of course, that’s next year, and the subject of next year is on the table because after Sunday’s loss, this year is down to three games with the playoffs all but out of the question.

Keim said this feeling doesn’t compare to the embarrassment he felt during that 58-0 loss in Seattle in late 2012, right before he got the GM job. “This is a constant frustration. I have a hard time putting your finger on issues as a whole. It starts with attention to detail, and … guys we were counting on to make big plays have not shown up with any consistency. That’s also very alarming for me.”

What about going forward?

“I have a pretty good feel (for what I want to do),” Keim said. “I really do feel like our core talent on offense and on defense is in place. … These last three games are critical for a lot of reasons. I want to identify who loves it. Which guys are passionate about the game. Who are our top competitors? If you’re not going to compete and not play with passion you’re not going to be on this roster in 2017.”

— While Keim said he was proud of the team for fighting back in the fourth quarter, there was plenty to improve. “The one thing I struggle with is the missed tackles,” he said, adding that technique is involved but he also sees it as a matter of want-to.

— The patchwork offensive line was up and down, particularly the right side. He liked how both money linebacker Deone Bucannon and left tackle D.J. Humphries were playing before their injuries (ankle and concussion, respectively). He thought newcomer Sio Moore made a couple of nice plays, and also noticed rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, who ended up playing 18 defensive snaps because of all the injuries. That was the most time Williams has spent on defense since the opener.

— Keim’s special teams evaluation: “Guys that we counted on, not getting it done. Starts with the snapper. It was an issue earlier in the year and we made the change, and I thought Aaron (Brewer) for most part done done a pretty good job. I don’t know how much the conditions had to do with it but he had a few rough snaps (Sunday). But Chandler (Catanzaro) still has to make kicks and he has to show more consistency. Same goes for Drew Butler. Those positions will obviously be evaluated and if we need to make changes, we will do it.”

— When it comes to leadership, Keim said that for the most part, the message is stronger coming from the locker room than coaches. And one issue that could be a factor goes back to what Keim said earlier, that guys the Cardinals were counting on to play well have not. The best leaders also play well. If the Cards’ top leaders aren’t playing well, it likely impacts the attempted leadership.

— Keim finished off by thanking the fans for the season despite the Cardinals failing to live up to expectations. He noted the tons of Cardinals fans in Miami for the game. That was something I noticed too — there was an appreciable roar from the stands on the Cards’ final TD and subsequent two-point conversion.


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