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Keim: Cooper took advantage of opportunity

Posted by Darren Urban on September 19, 2016 – 8:13 am

Last week, Steve Keim talked about the sky falling after the loss to the Patriots. This week, the Cardinals’ General Manager played off the theme, noting that despite getting into the office before the sun was up Monday, “there didn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky.”

Such is the reaction after a 40-7 win Sunday. The vibe tends to be better. Mostly, Keim — during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 — saw positives, including the play of cornerback Marcus Cooper. It doesn’t hurt that Cooper was acquired for a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, a cheap price even if the Bucs’ performance ends up being Cooper’s best. Keim said Cooper was high on the Cards’ potential trade list in the preseason. (That includes not only scouting players, but also guesstimating what players teams might be willing to give up or cut at some point.)

Cooper has the length the Cards like and a “feel for the game,” Keim said.

“He’s just a savvy guy,” Keim said. “I don’t want to anoint him as the next coming of Deion Sanders quite yet, but at the same time, very excited with the way he played.”

— Keim said he was “still extremely high” on rookie cornerback Brandon Williams. He thought Williams played well Sunday in limited defensive snaps. “I have no concerns that Brandon won’t develop, but still, it’s nice to see competition at the position.”

— The only reason rookie DT Robert Nkemdiche was inactive Sunday was because of the ankle tweak he suffered late last week in practice, Keim said. He added Nkemdiche should be back this week.

— Right tackle D.J. Humphries played well, Keim said, and added that right guard Evan Mathis was the “epitome of a pro” for coming back from his foot/ankle injury.

— Keim liked the game nose tackle Xavier Williams played, as well as fellow nose tackle Corey Peters. Keim said moneybacker Deone Bucannon had an excellent game.

— Early in the game, Keim admitted he wanted the pass rush to get home more often, but felt that the pressure eventually started getting to Bucs QB Jameis Winston even without sacks, given how many passes of Winston came out high. “I thought Chandler (Jones) did a nice job being disruptive, even though it didn’t show up in the sack column until later in the game,” Keim said. “I think they got into Jameis’ head enough.”


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Cards know they have to tackle better

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2016 – 10:13 am

It doesn’t get much more simple in the game of football than tackling. And the Cardinals didn’t do it well enough against the Patriots to open the season. Blame the lack of work in the preseason, blame a practice environment in the NFL that doesn’t really allow pros to practice true tackling. But it has to get better. Truth be told, I believe that even with everything else staying the same from that night, even with the Brandon Williams mistake and uneven offensive play, that if the Cards had tackled better, they would have won.

“The tackling overall was an issue for us,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “There were runs that got out on us that if we made the tackle on first hit … we had them at about 95 yards after contact and that’s too much. We haven’t had that in a while around here.”

Patrick Peterson missed a tackle on a third down that was notable (although the Patriots were already in field-goal range and the way Gostkowski was kicking, were going to get the field goal they eventually made anyway. It burned time but in the end I’m not sure that made a difference.) Tyrann Mathieu missed a couple tackles. Deone Bucannon did not play the way he was capable. Bettcher and coach Bruce Arians talked about a loss of leverage in getting in the right spots and that happened too often — the Cards losing the edge. Even Justin Bethel missed a couple of tackles on special teams.

On a night when the Cards played some zone with the idea that you tackle and keep a team short of the sticks, wayward tackling doesn’t work out all that well. “We were kind of rusty on our tackling,” said safety Tony Jefferson, who was one of the players who didn’t look that way.

I’d expect it to be different this week, given the emphasis the Cards have had. It’s crucial that it improves.

tacklingblog


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Chargers aftermath, and Okafor

Posted by Darren Urban on August 19, 2016 – 11:26 pm

The Cardinals got a lot good work in this week while practicing in San Diego. Bruce Arians said that, his players did too. But the end result didn’t feel all that good. The offense looked ugly, which really isn’t what you’d like to see at this point of camp (and things went pretty well in the first-unit’s one series in the preseason opener, so it’s not like they were bad a week ago).

But then you throw in the news that best case scenario, linebacker Alex Okafor would have to play the season with a torn biceps tendon, and that’s only if he decides not to have surgery. That’s a tough call. Okafor is going to be a free agent after the season. If he waits on surgery, he won’t be a full strength and he’ll have to have surgery right before signing with another team. Surgery now, and he’ll have no season in which to entice teams to sign him. He called it one of the most difficult decisions he’s made (and he had to make the same exact decision already, with Arians, when he was a rookie in 2013.)

Okafor suffered the injury in practice Tuesday night. We’ll see what his choice is and what it means. Okafor is/was the third linebacker to give relief to starters Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.

— Interesting that Arians said Jaron Brown is the best receiver the Cardinals have right now. Brown did make a pair of great grabs against the Chargers. One of the few bright spots.

— Larry Fitzgerald sat with a minor MCL sprain, Arians said. It isn’t serious.

— Deone Bucannon hammered wide receiver Dontrelle Inman early in the game, a clean hit (a penalty wasn’t called and the replays I’ve seen show a hard hit to the upper chest) that knocked Inman’s helmet off. Inman was checked for a concussion and cleared, but did not return.

“I’m a physical player,” Bucannon said. “That’s what it is and I like setting the tempo for the team and making plays within the rules of football. I love playing the game with passion.”

— Couldn’t tell exactly how D.J. Humphries did at right tackle, but frankly, there wasn’t anyone on offense (except maybe Jaron Brown) that will be able to be excited about how he played.

— Cornerback Brandon Williams gave up a 13-yard pass early, but held up better in my opinion. Overall, it seemed like a better performance.

— Arians, in his postgame radio interview: “You can’t play the game without passion, energy or brains and we didn’t have any of the three.”

One more week of training camp to go.

Dontrelle Inman, Deone Bucannon


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Thursday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2016 – 2:26 pm

The work in San Diego is almost over. The Cardinals have their preseason game against the Chargers Friday night, and to be frank, the attention has shifted from what the team might do this week and to what Bruce Arians might do after his health issues. The reality is that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was already set to call plays, and Arians had joked previously that he doesn’t have much to do during a game in those cases anyway. Still, all eyes are going to be on B.A. That’s only natural.

— Because of Arians’ illness, there wasn’t much discussed about the how the game will play out in terms of snap distribution, but the first units will probably get a chunk of the first quarter you’d figure. It always depends on how they perform, but maybe two or three series, depending on the number of plays. I’d expect this game to be a lot more Drew Stanton at QB, as Carson Palmer’s big third preseason game looms and the fourth game likely will be all Matt Barkley and Jake Coker.

— Another big game for CB Brandon Williams. Also curious to see what veteran Mike Jenkins can do now that he’s back on the field, albeit with a cast.

— Another guy to watch is DT Corey Peters, who returns to a game for the first time since blowing out his Achilles after just one preseason game in 2015.

— Not only were there no fights during the two practices between the Cards and Chargers, no situation really ever came close as far as I could tell. Don’t know if it was because Arians and Chargers coach Mike McCoy made such a big deal about no fights or if the Arians situation changed how practice was approached. Question is, does Friday night get chippy at all?

— Arians has said there are four inside linebackers fighting for one spot, which includes Chargers castoff Donald Butler. But you figure the Cards are going to have Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter in there. I’m guessing Chris Clemons, who has been working behind Bucannon, likely is in. So that would leave Butler vs. Alani Fua vs. Gabe Martin vs. Lamar Louis. So again, a battle to watch.

— One more week of training camp to go. Four more open practices.

ThursBeforeCharegers


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2016 – 1:35 pm

The players have been gone for a couple of weeks. The coaches are on vacation. Now is the time for them to not think about football, since football will dominate lives when the end of July arrives.

In the meantime, it is the perfect time to speculate and predict.

As I have done for a number of years, here are my picks, in late June, of who will be the starters for the Cardinals when they begin the regular season Sept. 11 against the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.” They are the best guesses for a team that has yet to take part in training camp, yet to absorb any of the inevitable camp injuries, yet to sign anyone late as a Steve Keim blue light special.

While the Cardinals often are in some sort of sub-package, for this post we are going with the base defense. I’ll post my thoughts on the offense tomorrow (and here they are):

DT – Calais Campbell. Going into the last year of his contract, Campbell’s future with the Cardinals is fuzzy. But the Pro Bowler has played well, and the addition of Chandler Jones figures to make him better, and in a year where the Cards are going to push for a Super Bowl, he’ll be a key piece.

NT – Corey Peters. The Cards like Rodney Gunter, who was solid as a rookie. But Peters was impressing coaches before his Achilles injury last season, and I expect him to make a similar push to get back into the starting lineup by the time the season starts. Other than Campbell, the defensive line starter positions are a) up for grabs and b) part of a rotation, anyway. One caveat: This is assuming Peters is indeed all the way healthy, but coach Bruce Arians said Peters would be ready to go come camp.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Rucker missed offseason work with a foot injury, and he may not be ready right when camp opens. But assuming he doesn’t miss too much time, he figures to find his way into the lineup again. He’s been solid the last couple of seasons, and while there is youth available (Gunter, Nkemdiche, Stinson) Rucker still leads the way.

OLB – Chandler Jones. He was penciled into the lineup the day he arrived in a trade. He’ll be a three-down player.

ILB – Deone Bucannon. Last year at this time I picked Bucannon to be the starting strong safety. It was, after all, where he spent the entire 2015 offseason working. Then, when camp began, Buc was back at dollar linebacker. The Cards don’t even pretend he is anything but anymore.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He got his chance to show he could be a starter last year, and he made it work. He’ll be back in place again as he goes into the last year of his contract.

OLB – Markus Golden. When it comes to outside linebackers, Jones is the star, Alex Okafor is the former starter on the comeback trail after his dicey exit to 2015, and Dwight Freeney is the still-available free agent. Meanwhile, Golden, who was solid as a rookie, will slide into the starting spot opposite Jones. He’ll have the chance to be a nice bookend.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Yes, 2014 was mostly forgettable. Peterson couldn’t have made 2015 more memorable. That was the stud cornerback he could be, and the one the Cards are counting on going forward.

CB – Justin Bethel. There is competition, not from someone unsigned, but from the rookies. If Bethel is going to grab this job, he has to hold off raw rookie Brandon Williams. He should be able to do that.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, I think Mathieu finds a way to be ready by “Sunday Night Football” to open the season. If not, Tyvon Branch – who will get a lot of playing time anyway – is around. The Cards need a healthy and productive Mathieu.

SS – Tony Jefferson. Branch will be in the mix too, and D.J. Swearinger will make a push, but in the end I think Jefferson finds his way on to the field first, as the Cards once again mix-and-match often their secondary. (Would I be surprised if Branch starts? Not at all.)

DefenseWorth


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Buc, Clemons and dollar linebacker

Posted by Darren Urban on May 20, 2016 – 9:46 am

Deone Bucannon came along at the perfect time two years ago, when Daryl Washington got suspended and the Cardinals wanted someone quicker and rangier to play in the box — as a linebacker — than most linebackers. So they took their first-round pick, a safety, and in two seasons Bucannon has not only done well but has redefined in some ways what it means to be a front-seven defender in this league.

But Bucannon is not an outlier. Not on the Cardinals. As defensive coordinator James Bettcher continues to compose the defense, any question to how the Cards want to line up is underscored not only with Bucannon playing his spot but also because when the Cards go to the second unit, it is safety Chris Clemons who is playing the Bucannon role — not a linebacker by trade.

Clemons, who at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds is a physical match for the 6-1, 220-pound Bucannon, has been around for the past couple of seasons. He was released early in the season after getting hurt, and then returned late with two games left and then played in the postseason.

Where guys are in the offseason isn’t necessarily permanent — if you recall, last offseason, Bucannon played true safety most of the time and Tyrann Mathieu was actually second-string — but again, it goes to how much Bettcher and the Cardinals like their versatility on defense, especially in the secondary. They like safeties who can play corner if needed (Mathieu, Marqui Christian, Tyvon Branch) and they like safeties that can drop into the box. Or in the case of Bucannon, stay in the box.

ClemonsBucUSE


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Rookies signed at warp speed

Posted by Darren Urban on May 9, 2016 – 3:22 pm

It’s not hard to remember, not if you have been following the Cardinals for any length of time, but signing draft picks used to be much, much more difficult. Yes, the ease in which picks are signed these days is rules-related — once the new collective bargaining agreement essentially slotted each pick’s money and took the hardest part (money) out of the negotiating equation, things were going to speed up.

But to think the Cardinals already have all of their draft picks under contract on May 9 is impressive. The time frame to finish up since 2011, when the new CBA went into effect, has gotten earlier and earlier:

2011: Amid the chaos of so many signings as the CBA was ratified post-lockout just as training camp was starting, first-rounder Patrick Peterson and second-rounder Ryan Williams signed July 31.
2012: First-rounder Michael Floyd and third-rounder Jamell Fleming signed June 11.
2013: First-rounder Jonathan Cooper signed July 29.
2014: First-rounder Deone Bucannon signed June 5.
2015: First-rounder D.J. Humphries signed June 1.
2016: Sixth-rounder Harlan Miller, third-rounder Brandon Williams and fourth-rounder Evan Boehm sign May 9.

The Cardinals aren’t unique — the Bears have been signing their entire draft class within a couple days of the draft the last couple of seasons, for instance — but to have all those deals done not only before the players break prior to camp but before OTAs have even begun is a good thing. The days of the Cards having their first-round pick sit out at least a few days of training camp — or more, Wendell Bryant — are long over.

rookeissignedblog


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Trading up, trading down in the first round

Posted by Darren Urban on April 12, 2016 – 2:47 pm

It’s one of the favorite topics pre-draft for any team, and I have no doubt GM Steve Keim will be asked the question when he and coach Bruce Arians have their upcoming pre-draft press conference: What are the chances of trading up or back with that first-round pick, which is 29th overall?

(Of course, I expect an answer along the lines of, “We’ll consider both those options, depending on what deals are out there.”)

Given that the Cardinals already gave up their second-round pick in the Chandler Jones trade, however, I find it hard to believe there would be any trade up. Keim loves his draft picks, the Cardinals only have six right now, and to move up and give up yet another choice somewhere would seem to be cost-prohibitive (and also, I’m not sure there will be someone out there in the 24 or 25 range, which is probably about as far as the Cards would be able to maneuver without gutting the draft class.)

Trading down, though, that’s completely different. At 29 — just two picks from the end of the first round, thanks to the Patriots losing their choice in Deflategate — moving back into the second round isn’t a crazy thought. To move down a handful of spots and pick up, say, another fourth-round pick would be enticing (especially if, for example, there is a quarterback later on upon which the Cards might want to take a flier.)

There was talk about possibly trading up last year, to get a pass rusher, but in the end the Cardinals stayed put and took tackle D.J. Humphries. Two years ago, they traded down (from 20 to 27) with the Saints, taking linebacker Deone Bucannon and then snagging wide receiver Smokey Brown with the extra third-round pick.

It’s impossible to know if it will happen. Too many variables that come from being on the clock need to be filled in: Who is still on the board, what team might want to move up to get someone, and whether the Cardinals are OK with giving up a chance at whomever might be left. It would be interesting, though, to come in April 28 for the first round and have the story that night be that the Cardinals don’t have any players yet.

NFL Draft Football


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Bucannon will stay at linebacker

Posted by Darren Urban on February 25, 2016 – 7:57 am

It’s been headed this way for a while, but Bruce Arians confirmed it: Deone Bucannon, drafted as a safety out of Washington State in 2014 only to move to “dollar” linebacker as a rookie, isn’t going back to safety.

“Right now, he is so good at what he is doing, we’ll leave him right there,” Arians said. “He is such a unique player at that position, to be able to play linebacker at his size, he just gives us such an advantage. We’re in nickel defense all the time and he gives us such a fast blitzer, fast player to the football, and he can cover tight ends. So yeah, we’ll probably leave him there.”

Bucannon led the Cardinals with 127 total tackles, adding three sacks, an interception (which he returned for a touchdown), four passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. At a listed 208 pounds — I’m guessing he’s a little bigger than that these days — Bucannon isn’t quite linebacker-sized. But as Arians notes, in this day and age of sub-packages most of the time, Bucannon has held up most of the time. More and more teams are putting smaller, more rangy guys at linebacker.

When the Cardinals talk about adding players this offseason, safety is a position that has been brought up. Inside linebacker not as much, as the Cards develop Bucannon there.

DenoneBLOG


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Keim: “Fingers crossed” for Mathieu UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on December 21, 2015 – 8:13 am

Cardinals GM Steve Keim didn’t go to bed after the team landed around 4:30 a.m. from Philadelphia after their win Sunday night. And when he made his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 a little more than three hours later, there was no definitive answer yet on the status of safety Tyrann Mathieu and his right knee injury. (Mathieu hurt his left knee in 2013.)

Keim said Mathieu was undergoing an MRI Monday morning to determine the extent of the problem.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Keim said. “He’s such a valuable piece to this defense, this organization.”

UPDATE: Bruce Arians announced Monday Mathieu’s season is over after he tore his ACL.

Some other Keim thoughts:

— On the NFC West title, with a chance to clinch a first-round bye by beating the Packers in a week, I “just like the fact we control our own destiny.”

“It was nice to see a complete football game from our club” against the Eagles, Keim added.

— He said he was happy with the play of the offensive line. Keim thought it was one of the best games for right tackle Bobby Massie, he liked the aggressiveness of guard Mike Iupati, and he thought A.Q. Shipley played well in place of injured center Lyle Sendlein.

— As for the injured finger of QB Carson Palmer and the knee of RB David Johnson, Keim said both should be fine.

— Keim praised the play of newcomer D.J. Swearinger at safety. He also liked the games of ILB Deone Bucannon and DT Josh Mauro

“That’s what makes a team, when you have different guys step up each week,” he said.

— His biggest concern going forward? There was a mention of consistent pass rush, but the main thing comes as no surprise with the Mathieu situation hanging over the team’s collective head. “The ability to stay healthy through the process,” Keim said.

 


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