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Behind Johnson, the look of running back room

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

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

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

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


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From here, the question of adding vets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Kerwynn Williams finds his wildcat

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2016 – 9:50 am

Sometimes, the mother of invention is simply right place, right time. Running back Kerwynn Williams has taken snaps before in his football career. He played quarterback in high school (surprisingly, Williams said) and at Utah State he was used in some wildcat formations. But with the Cardinals, it really hadn’t come up until the week of practice heading into the game against the Vikings.

The Vikings use the wildcat. So the Cardinals were practicing against it with their scout team. Normally, practice squad running back Elijhaa Penny would have served in that role. But Penny wasn’t at practice that day, his child being born. So Williams jumped in, and apparently, coaches liked what they saw.

“I guess the rest is history,” Williams said.

The next week, Williams had a part in the offensive package. Williams was in the wildcat twice in Atlanta. He handed off to David Johnson for a 16-yard gain on the first play. The second time, Williams broke for a nice 11-yard gain, although it was wiped out on an A.Q. Shipley holding penalty. It “adds a different wrinkle to the offense,” Williams said, and there is little question that Williams has proven over his years in Arizona — even though he has been on and off the roster — that he can run the ball. That’s never really been in doubt, and it flashed again against the Falcons.

As for playing wildcat quarterback, there is also the chance to pass the ball too, right?

“I did have a little bit of the laser back in the day,” Williams deadpanned. “It’s still there. I’ve still got the fundamentals.”

Williams smiled. “But that’s what Carson is for,” he added. “He’s a great quarterback, he makes a lot of great passes. I don’t think they need me to throw the ball.”

kerwynnwildcat


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Kerwynn Williams, and juggling the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on October 11, 2016 – 10:09 am

The life of a player on the fringe of the roster is not easy. Kerwynn Williams knows this. The running back was re-signed by the Cardinals Tuesday. He had been signed a week ago after Chris Johnson went on IR, and then when the Cardinals needed an extra tight end because Darren Fells was injured — the Cards promoted practice squad tight end Hakeem Valles — Williams was the one they cut, just a few hours before kickoff against the 49ers. Now that Carson Palmer is just about healthy, the Cardinals found a roster spot for Williams again, letting go of quarterback Zac Dysert.

Williams lives a tough reality. He’s not a special teamer (he can return kickoffs, if needed) so he’s not a guy that makes sense to be active unless you need him to run the ball. He’s no longer practice-squad eligible. But he’s proven many times he can run the ball, and run it well. If he had been PS-eligible, he very well would have made it over Elijhaa Penny.

But with Johnson down (at least for now; there is a chance CJ2K will return this season) Williams makes a lot of sense as an extra runner. Andre Ellington will be David Johnson’s official backup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams finds a way to get some carries over the next few weeks.

That is, of course, assuming the Cardinals don’t need to find a roster spot again.

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Broncos — and preseason — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 1, 2016 – 11:32 pm

It’s late, it’s the fourth preseason game, and the reality is not much can be said until final cuts are made. So this aftermath will be short and sweet. There were some “stars” Thursday night — Elijhaa Penny ran the ball really well — but then you hear Bruce Arians talking about Stepfan Taylor being one of the core guys on special teams and you remember that many of these roster spots have already been determined, the process of seeing all these guys over offseason workouts and an entire training camp and three previous games.

(Still, if a guy like Penny isn’t picked up on waivers, I can’t see how he wouldn’t be on the practice squad.)

I tweeted late in the game that if I had a do-over on my guess at the 53, it’d be that Lamar Louis would make the team. He’s impressed, and more importantly, Arians keeps talking him up. We’ll see. Special teams is the key to these final couple of spots, Arians stressed, and Louis is playing well in that area.

— Special teams will be impacted with the short-term loss of linebacker Kareem Martin. Martin hurt his MCL and Arians said they are hoping he’s only out two or three weeks. You have to wonder, if fellow linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo hadn’t gotten hurt earlier (it was announced as a right knee; Arians said after it was a hamstring) and was still playing if Martin even would have been on the field. Bad luck all around.

— In terms of outside linebacker depth, if Martin is down, Arians said Alani Fua can play outside as well as inside. And if anyone was unsure if Fua was going to be on the team, there’s your answer.

— Earl Watford had never played left tackle in a game. Now he has. Could the Cardinals go with just three backup OL right now — center Evan Boehm, perhaps guard Cole Toner and Watford, who can play every position? Watford can play all five positions and will be the sixth offensive lineman.

— The Cardinals have run the ball very, very well all preseason. Bodes well.

— Robert Nkemdiche played well, in different spots, and was in on a sack late.

— Not a great night for the top cornerbacks. Justin Bethel sat out because of his foot. Brandon Williams didn’t have one of his better games, but it was better than Cariel Brooks, who was in position to be the fourth cornerback and did not play well at all.

— Nice pick-6 by ILB Gabe Martin late in the game, but I’m not sure it was enough to make the team. Would they keep Martin over veteran Chris Clemons?

— I don’t expect cuts to be announced before the weekend, even though Arians was talking about hard decisions being made Friday.

— Finally, a 59-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro, which would have been the second-longest in team history had it been in the regular season (Jay Feely booted the 61-yarder against Buffalo in 2012). Will Cat Man have chances like that in the regular season?

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Thoughts after the Red-White practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2016 – 4:56 pm

Here we are after the Red-White practice, the annual first real break point of training camp. From here on out — save for the bye week — the Cardinals will have a football game every week. That starts this coming Friday with the preseason opener at home against Oakland.

But first, a few thoughts and analysis after the Red-White work, which featured a lot more live play than I was expecting. It was good to see real football again. I know Andre Ellington agrees.

— Among the “stars” Saturday was wide receiver Jaron Brown, who made several nice catches — including a 25-yard TD reception from Larry Fitzgerald on the WR option pass. Brown is one of those guys who could easily be with another team making more plays than he does in Arizona. He simply has too many talented guys ahead of him.

— Ellington also looked very good as a receiver. The Cards’ passing game looked pretty sharp all around.

— Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones caused havoc up front as the practice went on. Jones continues to show he will be a great pass rusher.

— Not a great sign considering both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians have said short-yardage improvement is a priority, but during “live” play in the middle of the field Chris Johnson was stuffed for a loss on a fourth-and-1 run.

— And in the goal line “live” drill, the first-string offense failed to score in three tries. There was an incomplete play-action pass, and then David Johnson was swamped under on two other runs. Linebacker Kevin Minter got Johnson the first time (Minter had a smile about it, as you can see in the picture), while veteran DT Red Bryant led the charge to blow up the final attempt.

— The second-unit offense was more successful in goal line, scoring twice on runs by Chris Johnson and Elijhaa Penny.

— Despite all the hitting/tackling, no one seemed to get hurt, although guard Mike Iupati did go down on a play when it looked like someone rolled up on his legs. Iupati was able to get back in after one play though, so crisis averted.

— Crowd was estimated at 25,000.

— The Cards are off Sunday, and resume practice Monday.

MinterSmileUSE


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