The door for Chris Johnson to return to the Cardinals was never really closed, and that speaks to the relationship between the veteran running back and the franchise. Both knew where the other side was coming from. The Cards got that Johnson would want to explore his options, especially with a situation here where David Johnson is going to get the vast majority of the work. Johnson understood that coming back to the Cardinals not only would likely mean limited snaps but also a limited salary — especially after Johnson had both his Cardinals’ seasons end early because of injury.
To be honest, I thought the David Johnson roadblock would ultimately keep CJ2K from coming back. Only 463 yards shy of 10,000, you get the strong sense CJ wants to show everyone what he can still do as a runner. That’ll be difficult with DJ atop the depth chart.
But he does like this organization and this locker room. And I think CJ is a large benefit to the Cardinals on multiple levels. He immediately becomes the best running back on the roster in pass protection. (Hopefully DJ is making strides in that area, but then again, you want DJ going out to catch passes.) He is a good vet to have in the running backs room. While Freddie Kitchens will do a good job as the new running backs coach, CJ can help with the transition from Stump Mitchell, who had been DJ’s only position coach. Oh, and CJ can still run a little bit, I’m guessing.
Chris Johnson never was hurt in his career until that broken leg two-thirds of the way through 2015, when he was the among the league leaders in rushing yards. Last year, he got little work before badly hurting his groin, which turned out to end his season — a season that didn’t go the way wanted for many Cards. It makes sense for him to come back and try and wipe out the bad taste in his mouth from 2016. There are a lot of Cardinals who want to do that this season.
Tags: Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Freddie Kitchens, free agency, Stump Mitchell
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The closing stretch for the Cardinals makes everyone take notice. Sure, the Cards are home for three of the four games, but thanks to the Eagles’ upset of the Patriots last weekend, every opponent is in playoff contention.
“Makes it real easy to practice every week,” coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t have to say (expletive).”
Next week is “Sunday Night Football” in Philadelphia. The last two games are home games against the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. And tomorrow, of course, is “Thursday Night Football” against the Vikings.
(For the many wondering about a flex to SNF for the Packers game, it seemed unlikely after the Cards’ game in Philly was switched and in fact, Arians said he’s hearing it will stay as an afternoon game. “I don’t think FOX is giving that one up,” Arians said.)
— The Cardinals, by the way, clinch a playoff spot with a win. They clinch the NFC West if they win (or tie) and the Seahawks lose in Baltimore Sunday.
— Arians said the Cards have three padded practices left this season but he isn’t sure if he will use them, or when. The most important thing is keeping players fresh at this point.
— Adrian Peterson can be a scary matchup. But even if he gets loose a little, it’s hard to imagine the Vikings having enough offense to hang with the Cards – assuming the Cardinals play as they are capable and don’t turn the ball over. The Vikings are missing four defensive starters. Advantage, Carson Palmer.
— Larry Fitzgerald this week, when I asked him about this receiving corps compared to 2008’s Fitz-in-his-prime, Q-in-his-prime, Steve Breaston group, said it’s the versatility that is so much different. Fitz is a better wide receiver in terms of knowledge and range these days. And while Brown and Nelson and Floyd are the deep threats, what strikes me about this group is the fact that Fitz could still go deep if needed. And Smokey Brown or even Nelson have shown they can go over the middle.
All that said, Fitz is satisfied right now of his role and why he has his role (setting a pace to set career-highs in catches and yards doesn’t hurt.)
“I can still go down and make plays,” Fitzgerald said. “But the fact is Mike and Smoke and JJ are much faster than I am at this point. They can get behind the defense easier.
“Everyone is comfortable in their roles and I think everyone is genuinely happy when they have success. We’re a close-knit group.”
That happens when you are throwing for at least 350 yards a game and everyone gets their bite at the apple.
— Adrian Peterson, by the way, drew some attention this week when he said the Vikings, among other things, were outcoached in their blowout loss to Seattle last week. Peterson didn’t see his criticism as a big deal, and actually made a good point about it.
“When the players don’t play well, or a guy throws an interception, or a guy fumbles, or a guy gives up a sack, or the defense doesn’t play well, it’s so quick for people to say, ‘Oh, the defense didn’t play well,’ or ‘This guy threw an interception at a critical time,’ ” Peterson said. “Like, that’s always OK. But, then when someone mentions something about coaches and being outcoached, it’s always like a big issue. To me, it’s not a big issue. We are a team, so we win together and we lose together. And we lost together, you know? We didn’t play well as players and the coaches didn’t coach well.”
— New safety D.J. Swearinger, who was signed to the practice squad when running back Chris Johnson was put on injured reserve, was promoted to the active roster when guard Earl Watford was put on IR this week and Arians said Swearinger will have a role in the defense. True, Tony Jefferson might not be able to go (or be limited) with a hamstring issue, but either way, Arians said Swearinger – a former second-round pick of the Texans – will have a defensive role.
— There is a toy drive at the game Thursday. If you are attending, please bring a new or gently used toy to any of the stadium entrances.
— John Brown hurt his hamstring way back in the Detroit game Oct. 11. He is still listed on the injury report as the Cardinals try to protect him, but Smokey is just about healthy. He showed that in his 68-yard bomb last week in St. Louis. And even with the injury, and a game he didn’t play in Cleveland and being slowed other times, Brown is just 183 yards shy of 1,000 this season.
— Set the DVR: “Bruce Arians: A Football Life” will debut on NFL Network Friday at 7 p.m. Arizona time, 9 p.m. Eastern.
— Speaking of TV, yes, the Vikings game will be on the NFL Network, but locally it will also be on CBS, Ch. 5, in the Valley.
— Interesting story in the Wall Street Journal, ranking the 10 most “unwatchable” teams in the NFL this season based on eight factors, such as fair catches, fewest big plays, pre-snap penalties, things like that. (The Colts topped the list.) No, the Cardinals aren’t in there, but I did notice that the Cardinals lead the league in a couple of their categories – most failed challenges of replay, and most rushes for no gain.
— One final anecdote: Rookie running back David Johnson had a good first start last week (Arians said he’d get 25 touches, D.J. ended up with 24) as the Cards rushed for 175 yards. Johnson came out late to give Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor some work, and it cost him a 100-yard game. Johnson finished with 99 yards on 20 carries.
The funny thing is, Johnson not only knew he was close to 100 yards, he actually thought he got it – to the point where he took the ball and brought it to the sideline so he could have a memento.
Guess he’ll have to do it all over again. The Vikings await.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Bruce Arians, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Earl Watford, Freddie Kitchens, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Vikings
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Those looking at the photos from yesterday’s OTA or the video seemed to notice the black stripe on the Cardinals’ helmets. OK, it wasn’t on all their helmets. It was only on the helmet of the quarterbacks. That alone should give you a hint that it was something else besides some interesting new tweak to the team’s headgear. So no, the Cardinals aren’t going for a new look (although it is kind of catchy, no?)
In fact, it’s a simple way for the coaching staff to have an easier time to see what way the quarterback’s eyes are pointed when watching some of the videoed-from-high-above practice footage every day. The shots that include all 22 players on the field can make everyone look a little small on the screen. This is just another tool to make sure Bruce Arians, assistant head coach Tom Moore, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens have all the information they can in their work with the QBs.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Freddie Kitchens, Harold Goodwin, OTAs, quarterbacks, Tom Moore
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There is often change this time of year for any coaching staff and front office. Coming off a 10-6 season, it wouldn’t have been surprising if anyone was poached from 8701 S. Hardy. But it sure looks like — barring something unforeseen — that the band will stay together for another season.
Bruce Arians already said he was hoping his coaching staff would stay intact. There were rumblings Alabama might want quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens for their offensive coordinator spot, but it was clear quickly Kitchens didn’t want to leave the NFL and the Tide went with Lane Kiffin. When Ken Whisenhunt was hired to be the Titans’ new head coach, there was a chance he might seek a reunion with Cardinals strength and conditioning coordinator John Lott — but then came the news that the Titans would be retaining their own strength coach, Steve Watterson. (Now, some assistant coaches are sometimes retained in the wake of a head coaching change only to be let go soon after. That happened with the Cards just last season, when the defensive coaches were kept after Whisenhunt was fired, only to have them let go in the wake of the Bruce Arians hire.)
Vice president of player personnel Jason Licht has interviewed for the vacant general manager jobs in both Miami and Tampa Bay, but the Dolphins keep bringing in new candidates and the Bucs apparently are leaning elsewhere.
And of course, the biggest news for the Cardinals is that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will be sticking around. The Vikings hired Mike Zimmer to be their head coach, meaning Bowles wouldn’t be getting that job, and he had already withdrawn his name from consideration for the Browns’ vacant head coaching job. Having Bowles around for another season to build on a defense that ended up sixth in the NFL (and No. 1) against the run should put the Cardinals in good defensive shape for 2014. Continuity is always a good thing.
Tags: Bruce Arians, coaching staff, Freddie Kitchens, Jason Licht, John Lott, Ken Whisenhunt, Titans, Todd Bowles
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The day after the season ended, Bruce Arians was asked if he expected to have his entire coaching staff back in 2014.
“I hope so,” Arians said, before acknowledging the head coaching interviews defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was certain to get and later did.
Will Bowles stay? He talked with the Vikings and Browns, although the latest report is that Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is the leading candidate in Minnesota and the Cleveland search is continuing with, among others, former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt — who had two interviews in Cleveland last year for the job before Rob Chudzinski was hired. Now comes a report that the University of Alabama, which lost offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to Michigan, could hire Cardinals quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens — a one-time Alabama quarterback — as the new OC. Alabama is interviewing former Raiders coach/USC coach Lane Kiffin for the post today.
It’s an interesting time as the coaching carousel spins. You never know — especially with a staff has big as the Cardinals have now — what other opportunities may change the landscape. For instance, if Whisenhunt gets a head coaching job, how many of his former staff would he try to bring in (and, in regard to the current Cardinals, might he try and get strength and conditioning coordinator John Lott?) Other things could pop up from nowhere, like the Alabama opening and Kitchens’ potential chance there.
I do think Kitchens, who had an impressive comeback season after his near-death experience of the summer, would like to be an offensive coordinator. Whether Alabama will chase him or whether he would be willing to go back to the college game, I’m not sure. But it’s an intriguing situation.
UPDATE: Multiple reports say Kitchens won’t be going anywhere because he wants to stay in the NFL. But again, will Arians’ staff stay completely intact? We’ll see.
Tags: coaching staff, Freddie Kitchens, John Lott, Ken Whisenhunt, Todd Bowles
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It was a play that doesn’t technically mean anything, especially on a day when pads weren’t on and players aren’t hitting much anyway. But running back Ryan Williams
provided the highlight of the second practice of camp (
sorry, we didn’t catch it on video I stand corrected — the play is the final one on the highlight video to the right). He ran left on a play, was hemmed in and made an incredible on-a-dime cutback that staggered a couple of defenders as he moved back right. It was the kind of play that reminds everyone while Williams has potential and why this team drafted him in the second round in the first place.
I’ve been asked a couple of times and, no, I don’t think Williams will be able to unseat Rashard Mendenhall as the starter. But I do think Williams has a chance to get playing time. Carson Palmer praised Williams’ blocking, which is a big deal in Bruce Arians’ offense. One play early in camp doesn’t sew anything up, but it does set a tone. We’ll see where Williams takes it.
— Wide receiver Tyler Shaw and tight end Alex Gottlieb were sitting out practice with undisclosed issues, while wide receiver Robert Gill left the field in the middle of practice with a trainer.
— The Cardinals signed undrafted rookie receiver Nick Edwards (Eastern Washington) and now have two open roster spots left (not including the one technically open while Jonathan Cooper remains unsigned.) Some have asked why the Cards aren’t looking for a vet with Ryan Swope now gone. Simple. They have plenty of capital — money and otherwise — invested in their top three receivers. Plus, they like some of the young receivers — Gill, Jaron Brown and Robert Hawkins in particular — a lot.
— QB coach Freddie Kitchens talked about coming back to work after his near-fatal issue with his aorta in early June. I’ll have much, much more in a story I am working on, but Kitchens said other than getting fatigued at the end of the day, he is doing well. “The worst thing that could have happened to me missed its opportunity,” Kitchens said.
— The first padded practice comes Sunday. I’m hearing there could be many of them, many more than what we saw under Ken Whisenhunt. The BA era will be fun to watch unfold.
— Finally, after I saw the Colts’ Reggie Wayne arrived at training camp in a helicopter, I had to needle Fitz a little bit on Twitter. As usual, he played it perfectly:
.@Cardschatter When I make playoffs w/ 106 catches + 1,355yds maybe but 5-11 700 yd season they barely let me in back door 4 camp this year.
— Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) July 28, 2013
Tags: Alex Gottlieb, Freddie Kitchens, Larry Fitzgerald, Nick Edwards, Rashard Mendenhall, Reggie Wayne, Robert Gill, Ryan Williams, Tyler Shaw
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Freddie Kitchens sat in his office Friday afternoon, going over some things with training camp about to start. That the quarterbacks coach was back so soon after emergency surgery to repair an aortic dissection in early June is incredible in itself, especially since Kitchens nearly died. But coach Bruce Arians talked Monday about Kitchens being cleared to return to work — which, believe it or not, had been the plan for Kitchens pretty early on — even if it might be limited for a little while. For instance, there will be on-field QB work at the team facility the next couple of days in which Arians will not let Kitchens take part in. Recovery is ongoing and he is still building back his stamina, but Kitchens said he was looking forward to getting back into the meeting room and working with his quarterbacks and the staff.
“What am I going to do, sit in my recliner?” Kitchens said.
Kitchens, who was Alabama’s quarterback the one year Arians was offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide, is getting his first chance to be an NFL quarterbacks coach after coaching tight ends with the Cowboys and Cardinals during his NFL career. Amazingly, his opportunity was only put on hold for about seven weeks.
“I’m ready to go,” Kitchens said.
Tags: Freddie Kitchens
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It had been noticeable, after six years of watching John Lott gather the players at the outset of every practice and listen to him bellow instructions for a stretch, that the Cardinals weren’t stretching before their workouts since Bruce Arians arrived. The reason was simple. Arians wants his guys stretching on their own and being ready to practice when practice starts.
“I know this,” Arians deadpanned. “If a guy starts chasing you with a gun, you’re not going to stretch.”
Point taken. Obviously, players need to get loose (not that it can be that hard in 105 degrees right now) but Arians’ major point is that they should be professional enough to do it on their own. In the meantime, the Cardinals ended their minicamp today after a brief walkthrough. They were out there for about 30 minutes doing light work before backup kicker Will Batson was given the chance to boot a 48-yard field goal. Good, and the veterans saw the end of their offseason work. Miss, and practice would go on. Batson hit it, to the celebration of all (although I am really curious to know if it would have continued with a miss. We’ll never know.)
So here are some notes, thoughts and observations after an offseason of work:
— The Cardinals are pretty healthy, to which Arians was happy. “You cross your fingers every day,” he said, but rehabbing guys like Levi Brown and O’Brien Schofield had immersed themselves back into all the work by the time it was over. There were some dings but nothing that should be an issue by the time camp starts. That doesn’t include, right now, the very much unknown situation of rookie wide receiver Ryan Swope. Arians already said he was hopeful Swope would be ready for camp. I don’t know if anyone can know for sure right now.
— Arians said his guys have to be in better shape. He emphasized that should come if the players keep working. Carson Palmer already said that should be happening, and Larry Fitzgerald made it sound like he is expecting more Cardinals than ever before to show up at his Minnesota workouts (and also some in San Diego, where Palmer lives.)
— While I will take my pre-vacation guesstimates at lineups next week like I usually do, Arians clearly hasn’t set much in stone. That’s because football “is a noise-level game,” he said, and the noise level doesn’t exist in the offseason in shorts. Some things are guarantees as you would think, Palmer and Fitz and Peterson and Campbell and Dockett among them. But there is wiggle room for training camp upsets.
— We are far from setting a roster too. But some of the undrafted guys who made positive impressions include receivers Jaron Brown, Charles Hawkins and Robert Gill, nose tackle Padric Scott and tackle Jamaal Johnson-Webb. We’ll have to see if that can carry through training camp.
— Arians is going to spend a few weeks at his lake home in Georgia during his vacation, which for the coaches starts now as well. Arians will also be hosting his first charity golf tournament June 24-25 in Georgia. He made sure to invite anyone from Arizona who wants to come, so, if you are looking for something to do …
— Rookies will stay one more week with Lott. The veterans are out.
— Arians said recuperating quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens stopped by the facility. Arians isn’t sure that was the best thing given Kitchens’ health but “he wanted to see his quarterbacks.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Charles Hawkins, Freddie Kitchens, Jamaal Johnson-Webb, Jaron Brown, John Lott, Padric Scott, Robert Gill
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Cardinals QB coach Freddie Kitchens has been released from the Arizona Heart Hospital following his emergency surgery to repair his aorta last week. He has returned home, although he will have limitations on his activities and visitors. Kitchens is expected to return as QB coach, likely limited in the beginning, at some point during training camp. It’s great news for Kitchens, who, had things not been covered so well by the Cards’ training staff last week, might not even be alive right now. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who was coincidentally out here the day after Kitchens’ surgery reporting for a future story, wrote today that 80 percent of such cases like Kitchens results in death. That we are talking about his return to coaching is a great thing.
Kitchens released a statement through the team:
“There are so many people that I’ll be indebted to for the rest of my life and ‘thank you’ just doesn’t seem near enough. First to the Cardinals medical staff, (head athletic trainer) Tom Reed and his crew, (team physician) Dr. (Wayne) Kuhl. They recognized immediately that something was wrong, even when I wouldn’t admit it. They knew enough to send me right away to Chandler Regional (Medical Center) where the ER staff and attending physician jumped right in and knew how critical the situation was. They airlifted me to Arizona Heart Hospital and made the arrangements for Dr. (Andrew) Goldstein and the surgery team there to operate on me through the night.
“Looking back, I have no doubt – none whatsoever – that I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the those people. I’ve played or coached football my whole life so I can definitely appreciate teamwork and a smooth, efficient operation but the work those doctors, nurses and medical personnel do is just incredible. Again, I wouldn’t be alive without them. I’m overwhelmed by the prayers and kindness everyone has sent my way; from the Cardinals, throughout the NFL, in Arizona, Alabama and everywhere else. I realize how truly fortunate I am and the blessing I have been given.”
Tags: Freddie Kitchens, Peter King
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Bruce Arians was planning on seeing recuperating QBs coach Freddie Kitchens in the hospital Thursday afternoon, as the Cardinals wrapped up their 2013 OTAs earlier in the day. Kitchens, of course, underwent emergency surgery Tuesday night to fix his aorta. Arians said he received a text from Kitchens’ wife Ginger that Freddie “took a lap down to X-ray and walked back and was breathing fine” Thursday morning. Doctors took the tube out of Kitchens last night, and while it was a rough night, Kitchens was doing much better today.
“Something just didn’t seem right,” quarterback Carson Palmer said, echoing the thoughts of fellow QB Drew Stanton. “Freddie is about a tough of a guy as you are going to meet. We had the trainers come and look at him. Freddie is lucky we have a phenomenal training staff because they knew exactly what to do.
“We’ve just been praying and thanking God that he’s doing better … The first thing I thought of was his wife Ginger. She had to fly across the continent and I can’t imagine how scared she was.”
— As for the team in the meantime, assistant head coach Tom Moore (talking to the quarterbacks, below, Wednesday) is taking Kitchens’ spot for now. Moore has been a integral part of the quarterbacks’ learning curve up until this point anyway. “He’ll keep the seat warm until Freddie gets back,” Arians said.
— OTAs are over. The Cardinals have a three-day mandatory minicamp next week (with Fan Fest at the outset on Tuesday) before the vets scatter for the summer. The rookies will stick around a little longer.
— Arians said next week’s goal is just to “continue” and “watching the little mistakes disappear.” The offense is “97, 98 percent done.” The defense “might add a blitz or two.” Arians joked that the Cards worked on taking a safety during today’s workout and “usually that’s the end of training camp.”
— Arians was asked if he had any concerns about the struggles of Levi Brown in the past. Once again, Arians backed up his left tackle.
“I don’t really care (of Brown’s past),” Arians said. “I don’t care about anybody. You start with a new slate. It’s what you do now.”
Arians reiterated he sees Brown as “elite” when he is playing well. And there is little question Arians doesn’t use the term lightly when you consider how important he sees the position.
“If you have to protect your left tackle all the time you’re really game planning with one hand behind your back,” Arians said. “You can find guys who can run and catch, you can find guys who can play in the middle. But left tackle and quarterback, God makes them.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Fan Fest, Freddie Kitchens, Levi Brown, Tom Moore
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