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After practice: Hurting John Brown “can’t rush it”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 5:32 pm

For the first time in a couple of weeks, John Brown worked in 11-on-11 situations in practice Tuesday. He didn’t run every rep he normally would, because he is, by his own admission after practice, not healed from his quad injury. It was a sullen Smoke who talked about his situation. He clearly knows his absence is felt, and he realizes many want him back on the field. But the wideout made it plain he wasn’t going to rush the process.

“I understand the situation at receiver but I’m just going to come back when I’m ready,” Brown said.

Brown knows his injury history. He’s also key to this offense. If he can get healthy in another week or two, that’s probably good enough. He needs to be healthy when the games count.

“I can’t rush it,” Brown added. “My body is different than others. They expect me to come back fast, but I can’t.”

All the receivers heard Bruce Arians’ message from the day before. Larry Fitzgerald was supposed to have a rest day Tuesday. He was out there practicing. On one touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hubert — who didn’t catch the ball as much as he was forced to catch the ball, barely turning around before a Trevor Knight laser lodged in his stomach — Fitzgerald bellowed “We’ve got 12 who can play! We’ve got 12 who can play in the league!”

— It wasn’t a perfect day for on-notice receivers. Rookie Chad Williams got two yards behind a defender and QB Blaine Gabbert dropped in a gorgeous 39-yard bomb perfectly, only to have the ball go through Williams’ arms. But the dropsies went both ways. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, safety Harlan Miller and linebacker Cap Capi all dropped sure interceptions. Capi would easily have had a pick-6 on a throw to the flat.

— Robert Nkemdiche was getting reps in one-on-ones against offensive linemen every time through a unit — first-string, second-string, third-string. The last time through he exploded into and through the chest of rookie guard Dorian Johnson. Clearly, Nkemdiche still needs to work on proper technique. But if he doesn’t get it, it won’t be for lack of coaching.

— DT Frostee Rucker was also supposed to have an off day but like Fitz, he practiced. Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson and Karlos Dansby sat. G Mike Iupati stopped taking reps midway through practice — not sure if it was injury-related, but Cole Toner worked with the first unit — and linebacker Josh Bynes also left practice early. Linebacker Markus Golden (ankle) missed a second straight practice.

— Finally, if there was any question about how hard it is to cover running back David Johnson on pass plays, it was painfully evident. Linebackers have no chance — Johnson twisted up Haason Reddick, Chandler Jones and Scooby Wright at different times. It’s not fair, really.


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After practice: Fitz strikes again

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2017 – 5:34 pm

Ron Wolfley wasn’t around, but Larry Fitzgerald was feisty, and he took it out on everyone else. First there was a tackle of quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich (whom we learned earlier in the day would be calling the plays against the Raiders on Saturday). Then later, Brittan Golden was up.

It started innocently enough. Fitz starting yelling into the stands to get the attention of Golden’s young daughter, who was sitting with Golden’s wife off by themselves, but close enough to hear Fitz. Once Fitz figured she was looking, he went to work, playfully taking down Golden and then rolling on top of him for good measure. When he got up, he made sure to tell Golden’s daughter he was stronger than her daddy. All Golden could do was shake his head and smile.

— For a second straight practice, David Johnson put a hella-jump cut on rookie linebacker Haason Reddick. There’s no better teaching tool for Reddick at his new position than having to deal with Johnson on a daily basis, I suppose.

— Tyrann Mathieu, on one play in the pull-up-don’t-tackle practice, rolled past receiver Jaron Brown on a TD catch at the goal line. The Badger made sure everyone knew it wouldn’t have been a completion in a regular situation. “I would’ve knocked his teeth out,” Mathieu bellowed.

— It wasn’t the best practice for quarterback Drew Stanton. Carson Palmer had a rest day, and Stanton couldn’t seem to connect often enough, especially in the red zone drill. He was intercepted once by Patrick Peterson on a pass to Fitzgerald in the end zone, although it looked like Fitzgerald was looking for a fade and Stanton was looking back shoulder.

— The pass rushers-versus-offensive linemen one-on-one was interesting. I can see why they like rookie Will Holden. His footwork looked solid when he was going, locking up the third-stringers he saw. Robert Nkemdiche looked explosive. He and Frostee Rucker beat guard Evan Boehm on back-to-back tries at one point.

— The Cardinals were done early. Really early. The final horn blew at 3:48 p.m. I’m guessing they were efficient in what they wanted to get accomplished. I’m sure Arians will touch on it tomorrow.


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A tale of two Frostees — or one Frostee, one Frosty

Posted by Darren Urban on July 22, 2017 – 8:51 am

Just before Frostee Rucker headed out to training camp — he actually got to the hotel Thursday night — he had finished a workout when driving home he saw a gentleman walking by the side of the road in the heat.

“It looked like it was going to take some time for him to get where he had to go,” the defensive tackle said. “Sometimes you have to take yourself outside of the box. I’m not really a fearful guy – I feel like I’m a servant in a way – and I pulled over and asked if he needed a lift and he actually did.”

The man’s twitter account (he later tweeted at Rucker to thank him for the ride, which is how the whole situation came to light) lists his name as Crispin White. Rucker said he didn’t have to drive White far. “But it didn’t matter,” Rucker added. “Wherever he had to go.”

But that’s not the best part of the story. The two began a conversation on the ride, and Rucker let White know his name was Frostee. White perked up.

“He said, ‘Really?’ ” Rucker recounted. ” ‘Well, that’s my nickname.’ ”

The man’s nickname was Frosty with a “y.” Frostee — his given name, don’t forget — spells it a little different. But it was an interesting twist on Rucker’s Good Samaritan gesture.


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 22, 2017 – 11:33 am

What’s frightening – at least to someone that hasn’t been on vacation yet – is that the first practice of 2017 training camp is exactly one month away. This is where I’d like time to slow down a bit. But this is also the time, before I take a step away for a bit and with the Cardinals a couple weeks already gone after wrapping minicamp, that I take a too-early shot at what the starting lineups will be Sept. 10 in Detroit.

Today, we’ll do defense. Tomorrow, the offense (right here). Most of these are pretty obvious. There are no real titanic battles on the camp docket. These can change if Steve Keim chooses to bring in a vet, but right now, nothing is imminent.

DT – Josh Mauro. Quietly, Mauro a) started almost all last season and b) has become one of the favorites of this coaching staff. No gaudy stats, but DL coach Brentson Buckner said Mauro is always effective when he’s on the field.

NT – Corey Peters. Speaking of quietly, Peters too played well in 2016. Came back strong off his Achilles injury. Proving to be a solid 2015 free-agent signing, even if he missed a year.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Always a chance Robert Nkemdiche could slip in, but I’m guessing Rucker – now healthy when he wasn’t in 2016 – takes hold of this spot, at least in the beginning. There will be plenty of rotating across the defensive line at all three spots.

OLB – Chandler Jones. No more uncertainly. Jones has his long-term contract, and so you pencil him in.

ILB – Haason Reddick. This is supposed to be Deone Bucannon’s spot, and there is still a chance he’s ready by the opener. I’m going to guess it’ll take Buc a little longer than that to be ready, and so I think the rookie will be the anti-Nkemdiche/Humphries and be in the lineup from jump.

ILB – Karlos Dansby. Dansby is supposed to be a bridge guy to the Bucannon/Reddick ILB lineup. But he still sees himself as “legendary,” and to the benefit of the Cards, he’ll work as hard as he can to stay in the lineup.

OLB – Markus Golden. Had a breakout second season, leading the team in sacks. Will be an interesting year too, since he (like David Johnson) will be eligible for a contract extension after the season, with 2018 his final year under contract.

CB – Patrick Peterson. A star, and he’s earned that title. Sometimes he gives up something, but that happens when you cover the other team’s best every week. Most of the time, Peterson makes the play.

CB – Justin Bethel. One of the biggest questions. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if Bethel is not the starter against the Lions. If Keim were to sign a veteran on defense, this is the spot I would bet it’d be for. All that said, Bethel looked better than Brandon Williams in the offseason, he is healthy, and if the roster stays as is, Bethel makes the most sense in this role.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals need full-on Honey Badger. That is all.

SS – Antoine Bethea. There are options at the other safety spot. I don’t see Budda Baker in this role, not yet. Tyvon Branch remains an option. But there is a reason the Cardinals signed Bethea, and I think they will want his experience and leadership on the field.


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Friday before the Rams – and season’s end

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 3:27 pm

One of the friends and family of Frostee Rucker that will be at the game Sunday in Los Angeles will be his first football coach. Rucker was 6 at the time. He later ended up playing at USC, and so will be back at the Los Angeles Coliseum playing for the first time since college.

“It’s almost like full circle in a sense,” Rucker said.

The season will come to an end as well. Can’t say it’s full circle, since at the beginning expectations were so high and here we are, on the final day of practice and it’s not even January. That certainly wasn’t the plan back in August. The mood was good this week, I’m sure in part because of the win in Seattle. They’d like to finish off with the revenge win against the Rams. “You build your team to win in the division,” coach Bruce Arians said, and, despite all the ups and downs, if the Cardinals win Sunday, they will have gone 4-1-1 in the NFC West.

That’s a record that Arians admitted, had he known before the season, he’d have assumed they would have won the division.

— Here’s another stat (oh, those sometimes misleading stats) that also would’ve made you think they could’ve (would’ve?) won the division: There are only three teams in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. The Cardinals (eighth in offense, third in defense) are one of them. The others? Playoff-bound New England and Pittsburgh.

— The Cardinals have not lost an NFC West road game since 2014. They’ve won five straight heading into this one.

— It’s amazing to think the Cardinals will be starting their fifth different right guard Sunday. It’s gone Evan Mathis to Earl Watford to John Wetzel to Earl Watford to Taylor Boggs and now to Evan Boehm.

— For those wondering, I had a chance to ask Carson Palmer about the late slant pass to J.J. Nelson. It indeed was an audible.

— The crazy stat of the week: Running back David Johnson is averaging 10.7 yards per catch (77 receptions). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is averaging 9.6 yards per catch (102 receptions). Yes, Fitz has more catches, but you’d never think a running back would be ahead of a receiver.

— Speaking of Fitzgerald, Arians said he would not lobby the veteran wide receiver to return in 2017. “It’s up to Larry,” Arians said of Fitzgerald playing another year. “I’ve got my fingers crossed. Hopefully he will come back but that’s strictly up to him.”

— Arians does have other business with Fitz, though. On Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal last week, Fitz celebrated with the coach a bit too hard. The jumping bear hug hurt Arians’ right shoulder, and he admitted Friday it still hurts. What did the MRI show? “Haven’t taken one yet,” Arians said with a chuckle. “I don’t even want to know.”

There could still be a price to pay, though.

“If I can’t play golf this year (in the offseason), I’ll be driving one of those real nice cars,” Arians added with a grin.

— The in-flux offensive line, whatever its shortcomings, has allowed only two sacks total the last two games.

“Proud of them,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “That’s what I told them Wednesday. Just proud of them.”

— Palmer doesn’t like sitting out Wednesday practice but he never really fought it either. The Cardinals put a lot of time and effort into the sports science of workload, hits and repetitions — led by assistant strength coach Anthony Piroli — to judge such things. Palmer’s Wednesday work is part of that science.

“There’s reason for it,” Palmer said. “There’s data behind it. It’s amazing the stuff that they keep track of and the information that you get back from that. It makes sense. I see why they do it, and like I said, they’re paid professionals. That’s their job and that’s their role, and you don’t have a choice but to listen.”

— This Rod Tidwell “Football Life” trailer is pretty good, NFL Network. I’m going to stick with my Tidwell effort, however.

— Congrats to Johnson for being named MVP by the Arizona chapter of the PWFA. Same for Kevin Minter for taking the “Good Guy” award for his dealing with the media. Truth be told, there are a bunch of guys that could win the Good Guy award — Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Humphries, Tyrann Mathieu and A.Q. Shipley immediately come to mind, and that’s not a total list — but the truth is, we have a very good locker room when it comes to this part of the job.

— Another season (almost) done. That’s 17 in the books for me. Where does the time go?

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Yes, a tie: Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2016 – 12:14 am

Maybe Donovan McNabb shouldn’t have taken so much grief. That’s kind of how Frostee Rucker — who played in the infamous tie game when he was with the Bengals and they tied the McNabb’s Eagles and McNabb admitted later he didn’t know you could tie — sees it, after being in yet another tie game Sunday night.

“Donovan McNabb got so much heat because he didn’t know the overtime rules, but who knew the overtime rules?” Rucker said, noting that the only reason he knew was because he had played in the one previous. “He took so much heat then and I wish I could say to him today, ‘You know what Don? People still don’t know.’ ”

(This is true. On the sideline late in overtime, I had at least three people — not players — ask what happened when the clock ran out.)

Then again, why would it matter? Why would a tie even come into play, on a night when the Cardinals moved the ball pretty well and stonewalled the Seahawks’ offense almost the whole way. I mean, Seattle had just 65 net yards (including penalty yards lost) in regulation. Say that again: 65 yards. The defense was excellent (especially since it was the pass rush forcing holding calls on many of those penalties.)

Instead, though, there were way too many missed opportunities — and when you get inside the 5-yard line and don’t score any points, you probably are fortunate not to lose.

I never thought I’d see a game in which a sub-30-yard field goal would win it for both teams, and both teams missed. And while I indeed did know the tie rules, I never really thought I’d see that either.

— David Johnson got his 100 yards rushing (113 to be exact), although it took him 33 carries. With eight catches too, Johnson had 41 touches, and make no mistake, they were hard touches. They needed Johnson, but there’s another rough-and-tumble front seven coming in Carolina. Something tells me Johnson will be ready for his bye week.

— Michael Floyd has had his drops, but that one he had around the Seattle 15-yard line in overtime, which would have been a first down on a drive when a touchdown would have ended it, was different. Floyd lay on his back for what seemed like a long time, upset he dropped it, and for the first time looked outwardly like his struggles bothered him. Floyd had five catches for 65 yards and made several key grabs — but this mysterious up-and-down season continues.

— Lost a bit in all this is the injuries piling up. Floyd’s hammie. Patrick Peterson’s back. Darren Fells’ ankle. Jaron Brown’s knee. Smoke’s sickle-cell problem. The injury report Wednesday will be interesting to say the least.

— It’ll be a long time until the Cards see the Seahawks again — Christmas Eve in Seattle — but that offense is going to be in trouble unless Russell Wilson’ knee gets better. When he cannot run, they are going to struggle against good defenses.

— It was the lowest scoring tie since the overtime rules were introduced in 1974. So … history. Right? It was the 21st tie in that time frame.

— The tie hurts against the Seahawks. Not as bad as a loss, of course, but when it probably should have been a win, it stings. The Cards remain two back in the loss column, so they not only have to keep winning but hope the Seahawks stumble. Had they won Sunday, you’d only have to have that happen once. Now, it’s got to happen at least a couple of times.

— Some big plays from lesser-known factors. J.J. Nelson was great (3 catches for 84 yards) and Ifeanyi Momah (2 catches for 50 yards) got open twice for giant plays.

— Arians clearly was not happy about the Bobby Wagner blocked field goal in which he leaped over long snapper Aaron Brewer. And Arians wasn’t happy when the Seahawks did it again on Chandler Catanzaro’s OT miss. “I’ll talk to the league and we’ll get some kind of explanation that’s all bulls*** like normal,” he said, and that’s probably true. It’s not like anything will change. It will, however, bring more clarity to a rule that seems difficult to understand.

— I was impressed with Palmer late with his leadership. When Floyd dropped that pass, Palmer rushed over to him and got in his face to tell him the Cards were still going to need him and not to get down. He did the same exact thing with Catanzaro after Catanzaro’s miss. I know there will be many who aren’t happy with either of those players — I’ve heard from plenty via Twitter — but Palmer is right. The Cards are going to need both. That’s what leaders should do.

The path to the playoffs is hard and probably suffered a setback with a tie. It’s not a loss. But it’s not a win either.

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Analyzing the initial 53-man roster

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2016 – 4:55 pm

The Cardinals have gotten down to the 53-man roster. Surprises? Perhaps a couple, although the way the wind was blowing over the last few days of the preseason, maybe not so much. Once we got to the end of the fourth preseason game, it was looking good for undrafted ILB Lamar Louis, and the knee injury of Kareem Martin might have helped ILB Gabe Martin on to the final roster (as well as his pick-6), although Martin has caught their collective eye for a while. I think cornerback Cariel Brooks had a good chance to make the team until he played so poorly against the Broncos.

The one legit surprise — in my eyes — was the Cardinals keeping Olsen Pierre, meaning there are nine defensive linemen on the final 53. Nine! That’s on a team with a 3-4 base defense that will use Chandler Jones as a defensive end in some passing situations. Then again, this could be partly for the future, not wanting to lose Pierre (and thinking he can play) when both Frostee Rucker and Calais Campbell are going into the last year of their contracts.

— The roster breakdown, right now, looks like this:
QB – 2
RB – 4
WR – 5
TE – 3
OL – 9
DL – 9
LB – 9 (counting Bucannon; sorry Deone)
CB – 4
S —  5
ST – 3

— So many wondered if Matt Barkley would stick, but as I have said many, many, many times, Drew Stanton was the No. 2 and Barkley simply didn’t show enough to pass him up. The Cardinals will have a QB on the practice squad — it could be Barkley — but it was clear listening to Bruce Arians over the time in camp he was disappointed Barkley didn’t come along faster.

— The trade for Marcus Cooper underscored the need for a veteran cornerback. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cards kept looking at that position.

— The same goes for backup tackle, although John Wetzel showed enough to stick for now.

— Only one draft pick wasn’t kept, cornerback Harlan Miller. I wouldn’t be surprised if Miller came back on the practice squad, but if you are Miller, knowing how much the Cards needed cornerbacks, you have to be disappointed you couldn’t make inroads in making the roster.

— When in doubt, teams go younger. That’s how you stay competitive.

— Teams will start making waiver claims tomorrow. There is still a (good) chance this 53 won’t be the 53 when the Cardinals return to practice Tuesday.

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No rush for “mindful” Tyrann Mathieu

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2016 – 8:38 am

All along, Tyrann Mathieu has preached patience.

The safety has been encouraged with his progress coming back from his ACL tear, and still hopes to be on the field when the Cardinals play the Patriots Sept. 11. But as good as Mathieu has done in practice, he is clearly cautious.

“I wouldn’t say I’m ready to play a full game,” Mathieu said. “I still feel like I have a ways to go.”

Mathieu recently estimated himself around 80 percent, and this summer, talked about how he wanted to be 100 percent before playing, with a nod to how much he struggled at the outset of the 2014 season when he was coming off another (albeit much worse) ACL tear. Coach Bruce Arians said there is still a chance for the PUP guys — Mathieu, cornerback Justin Bethel and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker — could play in Houston Sunday. As for Mathieu in particular, he is “not necessarily cutting it loose” in practice, Arians said. “I’d like to see him in game action, but that doesn’t mean I have to see him.”

Listening to Mathieu, an appearance now seems doubtful. Realistically, this would be the one opportunity — it’s hard to imagine someone at the top of the roster playing in the fourth preseason game, much less someone coming off a significant injury.

“Your passion tends to override being mindful of where you are at in your recovery,” Mathieu said. “As long as I stay mindful of that, as long as people around me stay mindful of that, I think I’ll be all right.”

UPDATE: Mathieu did not practice Friday, but Arians said he expected the three PUP players to play “10, maximum 12 plays.”

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Smokey Brown back, Okafor will play

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2016 – 1:50 pm

Bruce Arians just spoke to the media prior to Sunday’s practice, with a lot of good injury news coming out of it (all of which will extrapolated upon later on azcardinals.com.):

— LB Alex Okafor has decided to try and play with his torn biceps muscle. Arians said it will be a matter of pain tolerance more than functional strength.

— WR John “Smokey” Brown has been cleared from concussion protocol and will return to the practice field. Needs to get in shape, but he’s finally back.

— DT Robert Nkemdiche is “close” to coming back from his bad ankle. Arians said he hopes he’s out there Wednesday. The Cards practice today and Monday and are off Tuesday.

— The PUP guys — S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Justin Bethel and DT Frostee Rucker — are back doing individual drills today and are in uniform for the first time.

— G Mike Iupati (knee) is not practicing.


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No more PUP but still no Smoke, Nkemdiche

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2016 – 12:30 pm

The Cardinals are prepping for their night practice against the Chargers tonight and Bruce Arians delivered a bunch of injury updates, not the least of which the fact there are no more players on the physically unable to perform list. S Tyrann Mathieu, DT Frostee Rucker and CB Justin Bethel have all been put on the active roster, and while they will not practice yet — Arians said, as he did before, that they will only take part in walkthroughs and get mental reps — it’s a start.

Arians wouldn’t even say if all or some will be available Week 1 against the Patriots, although he did say Mathieu was “close.” They have to get to individual work before they even graduate to team practice.

— WR John “Smokey” Brown still has yet to be cleared after his concussion. At this point, Arians acknowledges it is a concern. The Cardinals will be smart about it, and Arians said Brown will likely sit out a couple extra days after he’s cleared just to be safe. Besides, Arians said, Brown will have to work his way back into shape anyway since he has been out so long.

— The hope is that rookie DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle) will return to practice next week, Arians said.


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