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Cards bring in vet T Starks

Posted by Darren Urban on August 1, 2014 – 10:27 am

For a second straight year, the Cardinals have brought in a veteran tackle around the beginning of training camp. Unlike last year, the addition of Max Starks will in theory be about depth than starting — which is really why the Cards grabbed Eric Winston a year ago.

Last year, the Cardinals were not comfortable with Bobby Massie at right tackle, and when Winston was available, they made it work. Winston ended up starting all season. This year, the feeling on Massie has changed. This is likely more of a depth move — Bruce Arians will address it in a bit — and who knows? Maybe this is more about Bradley Sowell or Nate Potter. In the end, it’ll be about the competition it creates. At this point in his career, Starks is no lock to make the roster. He started all 16 games at tackle for the Steelers in 2012, but last year, he played only two games with the Rams after the Chargers cut him in the preseason.

UPDATE: It’s definitely about depth and not Massie.

What he does do is give Arians and OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin someone with whom they are familiar from their time in Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals also cut kicker Danny Hrapmann, so that battle is down to Jay Feely and Chandler Catanzaro. Tackle Cory Brandon was released too, so the Cardinals now have an open roster spot.


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The black stripes are not a band

Posted by Darren Urban on June 3, 2014 – 7:32 am

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.


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Splitting right side reps and OTA notes

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2014 – 1:27 pm

Last week, Bobby Massie (at right tackle) and Earl Watford (right guard) started getting some work with the first unit. It wasn’t that surprising, given how open the job is right now. Bruce Arians clarified it a little more after Tuesday’s OTA, which again featured Massie and Watford with the first unit. By the time the Cards go through six OTAs, Arians said, Massie-Watford and Bradley Sowell-Paul Fanaika will each get three with the first unit. The reps will continue to be divvied up, and let’s face it, nothing can be determined now because offensive linemen aren’t even blocking now. There’s no way to prove yourself in the time of year when, as Arians likes to say, the Cardinals are just playing soccer. The true depth chart/starting jobs won’t be figured out until training camp and the preseason.

(Although, for instance, Massie must sidestep too many mental errors right now, the bugaboo that Arians and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin like to bring up.)

– Tuesday’s workout was moved an hour earlier with the heat. No bubble will be used when there are this many players. You can only have so many guys inside. Besides, Arians said, “we need the heat to get in shape.” They’ll get in shape, that’s for sure. With some missing players and the fact Arians uses two fields, all the main guys were taking a ton of reps Tuesday. If you were looking to see, for instance, Larry Fitzgerald vs. Antonio Cromartie, there were plenty of opportunities.

– The rookies are a little banged up after minicamp. First-round pick Deone Bucannon has a minor turf toe, Arians said. WR Walt Powell also had to sit out.

– The early thoughts on Andre Ellington from Arians? Hopefully 25 to 30 touches a game, which is a ton and basically unheard of these days for a running back. A lot of that will have to do with Ellington’s receptions (Arians has made no secret he wants to use Ellington a bunch as a receiver). There’s no question Ellington is the No. 1 back. How that translates to the stat sheet, we will see.

– Arians did say the Cardinals will use more two-back packages than last season, and that’s not the time when a tight end moves back there. There will be no true fullback on the roster, but both Jonathan Dwyer and Robert Hughes are beefy enough to be in there, I’d think.

– As the team waits on word about Daryl Washington’s status, Arians said he would like to add a veteran inside linebacker if the right guy came available. That’s not a big surprise.



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Todd Bowles and a head coaching future

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2013 – 10:04 am

When Bruce Arians announced the hiring of his defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, and his offensive coordinator, Harold Goodwin, neither had spent even a day in the Cardinals’ facility when Arians was saying he wanted them to be head coaches sooner rather than later.

Bowles, with a defense ranked seventh and playing excellent football all season for a team that’s 9-5, rightly has to be noticed as a potential candidate. That was emphasized by a report on mmqb.si.com, which said that the NFL created a group of former coaches and GMs to help identify some top head coaching and GM candidates heading into the offseason. The list reportedly is only available to teams that have a vacancy — so the Texans would have it now, for instance, because they fired Gary Kubiak — and has an emphasis on minority candidates after 14 consecutive white coaches and general managers were hired last year.

The Cardinals actually interviewed three of the names for the job Arians eventually got — former defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. But also on the list is Bowles, who replaced Horton and has done a nice job with the expectations that came with it.

Bowles has spent a brief amount a time as a head coach, serving as the interim boss for the Miami Dolphins at the end of the 2011 season. When I did a story about him recently, I also had a chance to ask him about Arians’ desire to have him become a head coach, and his own thoughts on the subject.

“I just want to be the best coach I can possibly be,” Bowles said. “Coming in here, regardless if you are replacing someone good or bad, you have to prove yourself. No different than a player. That’s all I was concerned about. I don’t worry about being a head coach. I worry about being a good coach. I know what I am. They know what I am.”


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Coaching matters to Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2013 – 10:13 am

MMQB.com published a interesting read this morning about how Bruce Arians and his staff may have done the best coaching job in the NFL this season. The piece, well worthy of a read, details a couple of plays on offense and defense as to how the staff has done a good job utilizing the Cardinals’ strengths. And it makes a lot of sense.

It’s been notable the Cardinals have tried fewer deep plays as the season has gone on because, quite frankly, the protection wasn’t able to hold up well enough in those situations. Arians has done a nice job diversifying the passing game. It means that someone like Larry Fitzgerald might not get as many catches as many would like, but it may help more in the long-run.

There is also no question that the coaching on the offensive line — led by offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, along with assistants Larry Zierlein and David Diaz-Infante — has made a big difference on that unit. The Cards have done a better job scheming protection as the season as gone on, but the more intimate coaching situation helps. When Arians was hired, he said one of the reasons he wanted so many coaches was to, essentially, keep class sizes down for the players (those of you who are or who know teachers know what I am talking about). Teaching matters to Arians. It seems to be paying off.

A couple of other interesting points in the article:

– Author Andy Benoit said he thinks Fitzgerald’s shift to multiple positions helps, even if Fitz’s numbers have shrunk. “The 30-year-old is just beginning what will prove to be a career-extending renaissance” Benoit writes. (Now, whether that can line up with an $18 million salary cap number, well, that’s one of the big questions of the offseason.)

– He called Andre Ellington a future superstar (and made sure to emphasize that he meant superstar and not just star.)

– He noted that Patrick Peterson’s ability to cover main receivers one-on-one with no help creates freedom for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles in Bowles’ quality scheming.

As the season comes to a close, the staff has a lot of pressure. Bowles has to handle a couple of physical offenses without key cog Tyrann Mathieu (and maybe without starting safety Rashad Johnson), for instance. And that offensive line that has been doing well enough now has to face a pair of incredible defensive lines. But the Cardinals likely wouldn’t be in this 9-5 position without the chess moves of Arians’ group.

– Arians said during his weekly segment on Sirius XM NFL Radio last night that Fitzgerald will not practice today, but that he remains hopeful that Fitzgerald will be able to play Sunday following his concussion. I saw Fitzgerald yesterday afternoon as he came out to take part in Darnell Dockett’s annual Christmas outing for needy kids. I didn’t speak to Fitz other than to say hi, but I can definitely see how this will have to play out as the week goes along. I don’t expect anything definitive on Fitzgerald before Friday, and even then I wouldn’t be shocked to hear it would be a game-day decision. That’s what happened to Kurt Warner in 2009 in Tennessee, when the decision on game day was to hold Warner out.


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Red-on-red returns for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2013 – 4:18 pm

I know many, many people have asked for it, and now you shall have it: The Cardinals will be wearing their red-on-red uniform look for Sunday’s game against the Colts at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals haven’t worn red-on-red since the season finale against the Seahawks in 2011.

– For those who might have missed it, I wrote a short story this morning about offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and the little girl who taught him an important lesson during the journey he went through the past year-plus. And, of course, there is the story of the meaning of this game for Bruce Arians and his Colts coaching transplants.

– Larry Fitzgerald was asked if he followed the magical season of the Colts a year ago, even if it was from afar. “No,” Fitzgerald said. “We had enough turmoil here last year. When I went home I didn’t watch any football.” He did realize Arians had won NFL coach of the year though — because “I was at the awards ceremony.”



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Dialing down the Wattage

Posted by Darren Urban on November 8, 2013 – 9:48 am

Eric Winston has seen J.J. Watt many times — the two were teammates in Houston. From the start, the current Cardinals right tackle said, it was obvious Watt was doing to be a good defensive lineman. “You didn’t know how good,” Winston said. “He’s the best of the best.”

The Texans come into University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday bringing along with them the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL (although they have an incongruous 2-6 record, but that’s a discussion for another post.) That defense is led by Watt, the maniacal, sack-grabbing, pass-knockdown king.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement when (Texans defensive coordinator) Wade (Phillips) said before the season he’s a Hall of Famer,” Winston said. “No one has blocked him yet. Hopefully I can get in his way a few times.”

How the Cardinals handle Watt — or at least, deal with him — will be one of the more important aspects of Sunday’s game. Starting left tackle Bradley Sowell has been slowed by illness and, as of Friday morning, his status remains up in the air. But it’s not like Watt is going to walk over to right defensive end and stay there. Cardinals offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said the Texans move Watt around considerably in sub-packages, and there is a good chance every single one of the offensive linemen will get at least a taste of Watt Sunday.

Watt had a spectacular year last season — his stats were just silly — with sacks and pass bat-downs. Those numbers a lower this year, but he has still been dominant — profootballfocus.com has him leading the league in run stops (23) and quarterback disruptions (41). Officially, he has 5½ sacks, 13 tackles for loss and the respect of every opponent as he bids for a second straight defensive player of the year award.

Carson Palmer has struggled when feeling pressure, which Watt and former Cardinal Antonio Smith figure to provide. What makes Watt so frustrating is his ability to get his arms in the passing lanes and knock down a pass even when he can’t get to the QB. Palmer said as a quarterback, you can’t just start changing arm angles or adjusting passes out of Watt fear. “Odds are he’s done it every game and it will happen,” Palmer said. “You just have to reload and go to the next play.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians called blocking Watt “an all-day chore.” The Cardinals have struggled with top rushers like the Rams’ Robert Quinn and the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett. It figures to be a turning point Sunday. Watt knows this. Asked how he would handle himself if he were scheming an offense, Watt briefly paused.

“That’s a good question,” Watt said. “I’d use two guys.”


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Friday before the bye

Posted by Darren Urban on November 1, 2013 – 12:59 pm

This isn’t going to be lengthy, not with the bye weekend here and time off embraced. But here at the halfway point, I was trying to consider team MVP candidates from either side of the ball. Defensively, there are choices. Linebacker Daryl Washington may have only played four games, but he’s quickly shown why he is so important and he’s in the mix. Defensive end Calais Campbell has been outstanding, and I think given the matchups he is faced with each week, cornerback Patrick Peterson has been pretty good too. Veterans Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett have been solid as well.

Offensively, though, um, I’m not sure there is one. I guess you’d go with Andre Ellington at this point, even though he hasn’t gotten the ball a ton. Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t made enough of an impact in that regard, it doesn’t seem. Neither has Michael Floyd. I will say, I am very, very interested to see if this offense can make some steps forward in the second half of the season (especially with the schedule upcoming) or if they just are who they are.

– Congrats to Ellington, by the way, for winning the NFL’s Fed Ex Ground player of the week award, voted on by the fans.

– Tyrann Mathieu has been outstanding, and we don’t need national awards to prove it. Yes, I think the safety has a chance to win defensive rookie of the year. He already is making the move to displace Rashad Johnson as a starter. I’ll be curious to know if that stays the same against Houston. Another thing the first half has shown me: Mathieu is a great tackler. Not good, great. He’s the best tackler on the team (and no, Tyrann, I’m not just talking pound-for-pound). That’s been the most impressive part of his game for me.

– Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin can quip with the best of them, and the de facto offensive line coach was talking about that unit when he mentioned left tackle Bradley Sowell. “He didn’t give up a sack, thank God.” There was a little sarcasm there for all the Sowell questions he gets, and some truth too. But Profootballfocus.com not only graded Sowell with having his best game against Atlanta last week in not giving up a sack, PFF said Sowell didn’t even allow a QB pressure.

– Both Fitzgerald and Floyd rank high on PFF’s drop-rate list, so that’s good. They just have to see more catchable passes.

– Amazing. A future opponent loses another good player, with the news today Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon is suspended indefinitely for violating the substance-abuse policy. Blackmon had already been suspended the first four games of the season. What a waste.

– OK, that’s enough. Back to the regular season next week. And in the meantime, here’s a very cool slow-motion capture of that rumblin’, stumblin’ run of Stepfan Taylor against the Falcons. The play gained 15 yards, and he earned every one of them.

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Ellington and his (potential) touches

Posted by Darren Urban on October 31, 2013 – 3:04 pm

Andre Ellington misunderstood the question a bit, but his answer still summed up his feelings on the subject of how much work he could handle in a game.

“Until the clock says zero in the fourth quarter,” Ellington said.

After the rookie’s 154-yard rushing effort on just 15 carries against the Falcons, Ellington’s use has been one of the biggest topics surrounding this team. Does he get the ball enough? Should it be more? What exactly is the concern? What does it mean going forward?

When it comes to football (and I’m talking the football on the field now; Anyone gritting their teeth about Ellington’s use because of fantasy football reasons can leave now), both sides have an argument. I get those wondering why Ellington isn’t the lead back, especially over a veteran like Rashard Mendenhall whose production has dropped as the season has gone. Coach Bruce Arians mentioned Mendenhall’s return to the rotation was likely when Mendenhall was “100 percent” healthy. Here’s the thing: When would that be? Mendenhall has been missing some practice all the way back into training camp. He hasn’t been 100 percent healthy for a long time and now it seems that his bad toe was giving him much more trouble that was being let on. We could be seeing Ellington and Stepfan Taylor for a while.

This isn’t to say Mendenhall would be better than Ellington, but it’s a factor. And again, Mendenhall is just part of the equation. The coaching staff — and GM Steve Keim — have said repeatedly they don’t want Ellington beat up. This isn’t about the one blow that takes out a knee or a major injury. But if you think Ellington has the stuff (which he does) to take it 80 yards for a touchdown on any given play, you want to make sure he keeps that dynamic in his arsenal. If he gets 25 touches, maybe that ability isn’t quite there in the fourth quarter of a rough game.

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said that on a personal level, he could see Ellington working more. He noted that strength and conditioning coordinator John Lott — who once worked for the Jets — said that Ellington and Hall of Fame workhorse back Curtis Martin were similar in stature. That’s true to a point (Ellington is 5-foot-11, 199, and Martin is listed as 5-11, 210), although when I look at pictures of Martin, he looks a bit more thick than Ellington to me.

Ellington had a season-high 17 touches against the Falcons (he added two catches.) “I wouldn’t mind the touches going up to 20 but I’d like to see it in the pass receiving,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He doesn’t has to stay between the tackles for him to get touches. I’d like to see him get them in space.”

That may end up being the compromise. Arians keeps saying he wants to get Ellington about 35 snaps and now, about 15-20 touches. Ellington does generally do a good job avoiding big hits and slipping massive contact. I’m sure the Cardinals aren’t going to forget to use what has been their best offensive weapon as the season goes on, even if Mendenhall returns.  The one certainty is this: No matter what Ellington does, he’s not going to be a back used almost all the time. Even the backs who are used all the time aren’t anymore (check Adrian Peterson’s touches of late).


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Wednesday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on October 16, 2013 – 3:57 pm

When Steve Keim was named general manager of the Cardinals, he pointed to a pair of moments that went through his head that were driving forces in motivating him in his new job. One was the feeling he had standing on the turf at University of Phoenix Stadium after the Cards won the 2008 NFC Championship game, being showered by we’re-going-to-the-Super-Bowl confetti. The other was the feeling he had standing under the gloomy Seattle sky late last season as the Cardinals were getting run over by the Seahawks, 58-0.

No team in the NFL should ever endure a game like that. When it does, it signals that there is much more wrong than just a talent difference. It also tends to leave a bad taste, although for the most part, the Cardinals shrugged it off this week. Center Lyle Sendlein didn’t have much reaction, although he pointed out he was injured by that point in the season and absent. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald was blunt: “Different team, different year. That’s ancient history.”

Indeed, many on the roster not only didn’t play in that game but weren’t even members of the Cardinals. The coaching staff has turned over almost completely. With the Cardinals playing the Seahawks tomorrow night for the first time since then, it doesn’t mean it isn’t remembered this week at all by the Cards still left. But it doesn’t seem to be some major rallying cry either.

“Not a lot of guys were here to experience it,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We brought it up one time in a team breakdown (post-practice) this week and we left it at that. Guys know the magnitude of this game.”

– Turnovers have been brutal for the Cards – eight of them in the three losses – and Bruce Arians certainly hasn’t been happy with it. How to fix it? “Quit doing it,” Arians said. “Hold on to the damn ball and quit throwing it to the other team. It’s really simple. It plagues some teams and right now it’s plaguing us and we have to fix it.”

Arians knows he’s stating the obvious, but especially with the fumbles, he really does believe it’s that simple. Cutting down Carson Palmer’s interceptions is more complicated, especially since Arians said because Fitzgerald has been limited in practice so much because of his hamstring problems “the timing that we had earlier in the season is gone.”

– The drives from the 49ers’ games were still bothering both Cardinals’ coordinators this week – for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, it was the failed drive on which Fitzgerald fumbled. For defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, it was the San Francisco possession right after that fumble that lead to the game-sealing touchdown.

“Man, I just feel personally, had we just scored on that second (third-quarter) drive, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Goodwin said. “We had our mojo. Anytime you turn the ball over you lose momentum and you put your defense in a bad situation. If we could just stop turning it over. You can see the development of our offense coming along. We just have to stop killing ourselves.”

Bowles said his unit’s problem was that suddenly, players started trying to do way too much and overcompensated in the idea of making a big play and ending the drive. So players were out of position and the Niners ran it right down the field.

“Guys trying to make a play and going over the top or going underneath to do something they didn’t need to do,” Bowles said. “Opening things up and we couldn’t get off the field.”

– Fines from last week’s games don’t usually get confirmed until Fridays, but a couple of players involved apparently spoke up. Mike Jurecki reported that nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu was fined $10,000 for kicking 49ers guard Alex Boone, while Matt Maiocco reported Boone was dinged $7,875 after swiping at Ta’amu before the kick.

– Hard to believe the last time the Seahawks visited, Russell Wilson was quarterbacking his first NFL game. He’s built quite a résumé in a very short period of time.

– Rookie Andre Ellington is averaging 7.04 yards per carry, best among NFL running backs with at least 25 carries this season.

– I think it’d be an upset if Calais Campbell doesn’t play. I think he’s fine and his scare from last weekend won’t impact his play. Which is a good thing. Campbell always plays well against the Seahawks and the Cards need him.

– The Cardinals haven’t won a division game since beating the Seahawks here last season in the opener. However this game turns out will influence greatly how this season plays out for the Cards.


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