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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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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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Keim: David Johnson needs reps

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2017 – 8:16 am

Running back David Johnson only played a few snaps for the Cardinals Saturday, getting three touches — all runs, for 16 yards — on the first four plays. He was stood up on his last carry and took a shot, although General Manager Steve Keim said he wasn’t concerned.

“It’s going to be tough to hurt a 228-pound back,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Keim also made one other thing clear: While there might be a feeling like placing Johnson in bubble wrap until the Cardinals get to the regular season could be the best course of action, it is not. “As good as he is,” Keim added, “he needs the reps as well.” There’s no substitute for getting action in a full-speed football game when it comes to getting ready for full-speed football games. That’s the reality, risk or not.

Among some of the other Keim thoughts from the morning:

— After the constant talk the past two camps about the progress of D.J. Humphries (two years ago) and Robert Nkemdiche (last year), Keim was asked if there had been anyone in particular he has been disappointed or frustrated with this camp. Keim said no. The GM admitted that early in camp he might’ve been frustrated with second-year cornerback Brandon Williams from a consistency standpoint, “but he’s picked it up. He’s working his tail off. … He’s come a long way.”

Keim said he can’t think of anyone underachieving, and given Keim’s ability to be blunt like his head coach, that’s a good sign.

— Not surprisingly, one guy Keim was pleased about from Saturday’s game was linebacker Josh Bynes. Bynes picked up the defense quickly, and Keim likes his range, speed and length. “He’s had some success in the past,” Keim said, and echoed what has become clear, that Bynes has a shot at the roster.

— Keim was happy with offensive execution and the physical play from the Cardinals. He was hoping for a three-and-out from the first-team defense after the initial TD (it should be noted the Raiders didn’t play starting quarterback Derek Carr), but that’s one of a handful of things the Cards can work on this week.

— There are still many things to improve for Nkemdiche, Keim said. But he did say Nkemdiche is “headed in the right direction,” praising his want-to, work ethic and film study.

— Film study will be important to the top two draft picks, linebacker Haason Reddick and Budda Baker. Both need to keep working on getting their eyes in the right place during plays, understanding what the offense is doing and finding a balance between quality aggressiveness and staying disciplined.

— Both punters had “extremely live legs” but Keim emphasized it’s not just the length of punts that are judged but also hang time, ball placement and such.


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Friday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2017 – 3:02 pm

Finally, some starters.

It could be quick for either of the units against the Raiders. As in years past, if the Cardinals carve up Oakland for an 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession, or the defense forces a couple of quick punts, I could see Bruce Arians sitting down his main guys. To me, this game is important for the offense and the collective confidence. Carson Palmer sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices, so I’m curious to see how that comes together – especially since the receiving crew, beyond Fitz, has been up and down and injured in camp thus far.

Defensively, it sure seems the confidence is there. Robert Nkemdiche is breaking out. Tyrann Mathieu is full-fledged Honey Badger-y. And Palmer and Bruce Arians believe this has been Patrick Peterson’s best camp yet.

Peterson, as usual, is thinking big.

“If you want to be remembered somewhere where you can be forever – which is Canton – those are the things I can control, make sure to continue building up my résumé,” Peterson said (pictured here with Cardinals Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams).

Some other things to think about before the Cards get to a second preseason game, and the Raiders play their first:

— The players in particular I want to watch in the game, even if it is for limited time: CB Justin Bethel, LB Haason Reddick, DT Olsen Pierre, G Evan Boehm, RT Jared Veldheer, WR Jaron Brown and all three QBs: Palmer, Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert.

Some played last week, some did not. Veldheer still hasn’t played right tackle in a game. Seeing Bethel under the lights is important. I want to see how Gabbert follows up with his impressive debut and how Stanton responds to all the Gabbert discussion.

— Arians again praised Stanton all week. I also thought it was interesting to hear Arians speak about Stanton and his hits and misses in practice:

“There has been an interception or two, some are not his fault,” Arians said. “Sometimes when you are running with those twos and threes, guys aren’t where they are supposed to be and you try to force one. I do like that, see if you can get it in that window and see if you can or can’t. No big deal if you throw a pick.”

Dunno if that applies to preseason games as well.

— Punter is something to watch as well. Arians said he wanted to see more from either Matt Wile or Richie Leone (preferably both, but one is enough). I’d guess they will split the punts again. If you can’t punt well at University of Phoenix Stadium – where this and next week’s games are – that’s a red flag.

— We’ll get to see Kerwynn Williams get run as a return man. We know Williams can return kicks OK. How he will do on punts – and whether he could manage that job with T.J. Logan out – is what is in the spotlight.

— Two weeks of training camp left at the stadium. As of now, seven practices are scheduled to be open to the public: Monday through Thursday next week, and Monday through Wednesday the week after.

— Finally, for those who are looking for my constant in-game tweeting, that will drop off quite a bit in the preseason. For the next four games, with Paul Calvisi in the radio booth doing play-by-play, I will be on the sideline as the reporter for the radio broadcasts on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. (And for those who don’t like my constant in-game tweeting, you win!)


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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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Wednesday before the Hall of Fame game

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2017 – 2:01 pm

Well, here we are. A game is about to be played and we just got to August, and there is still about a month’s worth of training camp to go. Still, once the games arrive, things get into more of a rhythm, work for a week and then a game, and so on. The players like it when we get to that point (and so do writers.) This game is a little different, of course. There is only so much you will get out of your main guys in any preseason game and of course, in this one, Bruce Arians already said there will be no starters. All about the young guys. Makes sense. The starters barely play in the first preseason game normally — and that game is still more than a week away.

This is about the young guys, as Arians said. Seeing what happens when the lights go on. Even last weekend, at the Red-White practice, which was still just a practice but had 25,000 in the stands, one particular rookie struggled with things he hadn’t previously struggled with. That’s the power of “under the lights” that coaches always talk about. There have been plenty of players who have looked good in the offseason and in camp and then looked different in preseason games. That won’t get you on a roster.

— It’s early but we’re already talking about injuries. Cornerback less so, especially with the signing of Tramon Williams and the return of Justin Bethel to practice. But inside linebacker will be interesting. Karlos Dansby was never going to play, but he’s nursing a sore knee. Gabe Martin is out for a while with an Achilles problem. Newly-signed Philip Wheeler is sidelined with some sort of leg issue, which shouldn’t be long, Arians said, but it will almost certainly keep him out Thursday. Of course, Deone Bucannon is still on PUP.

Rookie Haason Reddick will play (one starter who will be out there; I’m guessing there might be a couple of others), but Arians doesn’t want it to be long. One guy to watch is Scooby Wright. Wright has had a solid offseason of work. He’s good on special teams. If he can make a push in these preseason games, he’s got a good chance to make the roster.

— There’s a lot of talk about Blaine Gabbert and his start Thursday, but there will also be a half of play for undrafted rookie QB Trevor Knight. Knight is a major longshot, but he’ll have a couple opportunities. Thus far, Knight in camp has been the Knight people know from college — good athlete, can run, inconsistent with accuracy.

— This will become a growing storyline as we go, but while the starting offensive line is all but set, those backup spots on the 53-man roster are not. There are a lot of guys who are fighting for a place. I want to see Cole Toner, who is basically the backup center, in a game situation. Rookie guard Dorian Johnson, and rookie tackle Will Holden are third string trying to move up the depth chart. Unknowns like tackle Givens Price and guard Kaleb Johnson, both current second-stringers, who want to provide the upset by sticking around.

— Of course, all the draft class tends to get your attention. I do like what I have seen from safety Budda Baker. It’s tough, because of his stature, you’re always going to compare him to Tyrann Mathieu and Mathieu is having a great camp as we go. But you can see why the front office was so enamored by Baker.

— Don’t know how much Robert Nkemdiche we will see, but I am anxious to watch him against another team. He’s looked very good thus far.

— I will be staying in Canton for the Kurt Warner Hall of Fame induction. I have a big Warner story posting Friday morning which I think you’ll enjoy, and all our Warner coverage — including a series of videos from our sit-down interview — can be found by clicking here on our Warner Hall of Fame page.


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After practice: Better work before Canton

Posted by Darren Urban on August 1, 2017 – 11:42 am

Bruce Arians was much happier about Tuesday’s practice than he had been about Monday. “I knew they’d bounce back,” he said, and it was all but necessary with a game coming Thursday. For the first time in camp, Arians split the team to two fields, in order to ramp up the reps for the younger players that will be playing against the Cowboys.

Many vets, actually, will not play. Arians ruled out the starters (although we’ll see if that ends up being all of them; do you consider giving Evan Boehm a few reps at right guard, for instance?) as well as backup quarterback Drew Stanton and new cornerback Tramon Williams. Stanton doesn’t need more reps with four preseason games left, and Williams still needs to learn the playbook.

While things were better Tuesday, they weren’t perfect. At the end in particular, Arians said “some young guys” had trouble getting lined up correctly in a two-minute drill. There were a couple of guys who could’ve gotten out of bounds after catches who didn’t, and Arians ended practice upset on the last one.

“Run a  great route, fall down and catch it, don’t get up and get out of bounds,” Arians said. “There’s only nine seconds left those are things you hopefully learn from. Everyone else should learn from them also.”

The last two days have been about learning from B.A. “If you can’t learn it after I get after you, you’re in trouble anyway.”

— Injuries bit cornerback, and now they are biting inside linebacker. Karlos Dansby (knee) wasn’t going to play Thursday anyway, but he’s missed three straight practices. Arians isn’t concerned. But backup Gabe Martin is out for a while with an Achilles injury, and newcomer Phillip Wheeler is day-to-day with some unknown aliment. Arians would rather not play Haason Reddick a lot Thursday. Scooby Wright and Zaviar Gooden are in line to get a lot of playing time Thursday.

— On the good side, cornerback Justin Bethel returned — Arians Monday had said it’d be another week, but then again, Williams showed up — and Arians said “it was great to see him today. He was full speed.” Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is also doing more and more at practice.

— It’s been clear Tyrann Mathieu has been playing well as he rounds into Honey Badger shape, but he had a couple more interceptions during drills Tuesday. A high-level Mathieu is always fun to watch.

— Veteran kicker Phil Dawson was kicking at narrow practice goalposts at the outset of practice. No, there was no snap or rush. But Dawson nailed 60- and 63-yard field goals within the thin opening. It was impressive.


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After practice: Penny bashes at the Red-White

Posted by Darren Urban on July 29, 2017 – 6:22 pm

Famous last words.

Mike Jurecki asked about cornerback Ronald Zamort in Saturday’s lunchtime presser. And if he hadn’t, someone would have. Bruce Arians’ reaction was swift.

“You guys keep asking about individual guys and they keep getting hurt,” Arians deadpanned. “You and Josh (Weinfuss) are 2-for-2. If you get this one, you’re done.” (There had been previous questions about Aaron Dobson and the lack of soft tissue injuries at that point.)

Arians chuckled.

He wasn’t chuckling a couple hours later, when Zamort indeed went down. At first it was scary — Zamort wasn’t moving — but he eventually got up. We don’t know what the injury was — an update likely won’t come until Monday — but we’ll see what kind of questions Arians will answer going forward. UPDATE: Kent Somers reports that Zamort tore an ACL.

As for the rest of the Red-White:

— Elijhaa Penny is trying to find a spot on the roster. The big second-year running back wanted to clarify some of the reports about his weight — he said he weighed 250 last season, and is now down to 236, feeling lighter on his feet — and he spends most reps looking for contact as he runs downfield.

“I want to be the linebacker on offense,” Penny said. “I want to deliver the hit instead of taking the hit. The main point is I want the offense to get the same mentality that the defense has. Hit them instead of them hitting us.”

He is in a fight with a crowded backfield. “Every day, I have to treat it almost like it’s game day.”

— It was interesting to watch the final three plays on the full-contact goalline scrimmage. Three straight carries for rookie T.J. Logan. Logan and fellow rookie linebacker Haason Reddick collided something fierce in the hole on the first two. On all three, Logan’s helmet popped off.

— Among the notable plays in 11-on-11 work: Patrick Peterson’s tip-drill interception in the end zone, tipped by Tyvon Branch; Jaron Brown hauling in a tipped pass that had been defended well by Zamort; Larry Fitzgerald’s sliding TD catch on the first play of red zone work from the 11-yard line; Krishawn Hogan’s juggling catch on the sideline; and Budda Baker’s nice from-behind pass breakup on Jeremy Ross.

— LB Karlos Dansby sat out the practice with a sore knee.

— The defenses and offenses essentially split success at the end-of-practice scrimmage plays.

— Robert Nkemdiche was a disruptive force much of the time again. The second-unit offensive line has a hard time blocking him.

— The crowd ended up being 25,000.

— The Cardinals are off tomorrow and don’t have another open practice to the public until Aug. 8. They play in Canton Thursday.


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Cardinals still blitz-happy under Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on July 13, 2017 – 1:15 pm

Bruce Arians kept his promise. The Cardinals acquired Chandler Jones last offseason (and were counting on Markus Golden taking another step forward as a pass rusher) and yet before the season he said he still wouldn’t be happy unless the Cards were blitzing.

“If we’ve got four good ones, why not send five or six?” Arians said then.

The Cards got what they wanted out of Jones (11 sacks) and Golden (12.5 sacks). But they also kept blitzing. Pro Football Focus has the numbers (and a couple of gifs for examples). NFL teams blitz an average of 30 percent of the time, PFF says, and about 38 percent in obvious passing situations. The Cardinals in 2016? Blitzing nearly 41 percent of the time (and 41.4 percent on first downs.) PFF makes the point that, in blitzing, it gives teams less chance to double-team when blocking. But in the end, Arians just likes to bring the pressure. It’s the defensive equivalent of the deep shots B.A. likes to take on offense. What, you thought because B.A. is an offensive guy that “No risk-it, no biscuit” was restricted to offense?

It’s also followed the change in DC from Todd Bowles — who blitzed a lot — to James Bettcher. With the addition of rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick (who played a pass-rushing defensive end at Temple) and a healthy Tyrann Mathieu, there seem to be more blitzing options heading into 2017.


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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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