Part of the story of the game-saving (season saving?) third-down-and-20 completion to Jaron Brown Sunday was how the Cardinals even got there in the first place.
— First came the FUBAR Carson Palmer “sneak” on third-and-1 for four yards, gaining a first down at the Cardinals’ 24-yard line. All was OK, more or less.
— The next play, the right side of the offensive line collapses. Right tackle Jared Veldheer is pushed back, and for some reason, right guard Evan Boehm disengages with the tandem block he has on his man with center A.Q. Shipley to help Veldheer, allowing that rusher to go in a straight line to Palmer, where both pass rushers engulf the QB for a six-yard loss.
— On second-and-16, Palmer tries the fake-screen-left-screen-right to Andre Ellington, who is buried for a four-yard loss.
That’s how the Cards ended up at third-and-20, and why things were so bleak. It wasn’t just that it was third-and-20, but how they got there.
“Not an ideal situation to be in obviously, especially against the way they were playing, sort of sitting back a lot and sitting at sticks, at the first down yard marker a lot,” Palmer said. “That’s, you know, Jaron making a big play.”
Brown needed to hang on, but to be truthful, the Cardinals were given the perfect defense. For whatever reason, not only were the Colts playing back, but Brown had a free run all 20 yards to the first-down line. Palmer did a nice job sliding up in the pocket and got rid of the ball just before Jabaal Sheard hit him as he got past Veldheer one more time. Brown hung on to the ball as he took a hit to gain 22.
The Cardinals then lined up and bombed away, with the J.J. Nelson 45-yard TD catch on the next play.
There were a little more than eight minutes left as this was all playing out. Brown has made his share of plays over the years but I don’t recall many like this. Same with Palmer — it was a third-down conversion that reminded me of a Palmer-scramble-to-hit-Jake-Ballard in Seattle in 2013. That was only needing something like six yards, though. To get 22, and give the Cardinals any hope of winning — and then to have them win — gives this play gravitas.
Tags: Carson Palmer, J.J. Nelson, Jake Ballard, Jared Veldheer, Jaron Brown
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Some quick notes from Bruce Arians’ lunchtime presser, on the last day of availability before the Cardinals actually get to play a game Saturday against the Texans at home:
— The only player Arians said he plans to hold out from the game is center Lyle Sendlein, who is still dealing with the bad calf. Wide receiver John Brown was shut down in practice again yesterday due to fatigue in the hamstring, but Arians emphasized again it’s not injured. He also said Brown should have no issues in the game because he will be getting rests between possessions.
— The Cardinals cut LB Ernie Sims because he was not a fit, and Arians figured, as a veteran, the team owed it to Sims to let him go now to see if he could find a team that he could actually fit. As for the two empty roster spots with Sims’ release and the Jake Ballard retirement, he said the Cardinals aren’t in any hurry to fill them. “We’ve got way too many now,” Arians quipped.
— Ballard’s retirement was not a surprise to Arians. “I was in pain watching him trying to make it through practice,” the coach said. Ballard’s last MRI showed bone-on-bone, and Ballard’s future in the NFL was grim. “Hate to see it because he has such a passion for the game,” Arians said. “But it was the right move.”
— Arians dismissed the optimism of Tyrann Mathieu yesterday (although Mathieu’s demeanor and full comments at the time showed he too understood he wasn’t exactly at the doorstep of coming off PUP.) “We’ll still stick with our timetable and see how it comes out and when he comes off,” Arians said.
— Guard Jonathan Cooper’s play has improved since he had his knee drained, Arians said. “I thought he moved around much better.” No word on whether the knee is any concern. Arians didn’t make it sound like it was.
— Teams are able to use tablets on the sideline for the first time, but Arians sounds wary after using them during the Fan Fest practice. Like most tablet users, coaches have had some issues with glare from the screen, whether it’s the lights indoors at University of Phoenix Stadium or an outdoor stadium. “I’ll go back to the (still) pictures,” Arians said. “I’m old school.” he smiled. “Tom (Moore) will handle all the high-tech stuff.”
Moore, of course, is 75. Arians is 61.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Ernie Sims, Jake Ballard, Jonathan Cooper, Tom Moore, training camp, Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals’ logjam at tight end was lessened Wednesday when veteran Jake Ballard — who had already missed a couple of days of practice with a sore knee — decided to retire with his ongoing knee issues. Ballard’s career was derailed when he blew out his knee in the Giants’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots after the 2011 season. In a statement released through profootballtalk.com, Ballard said that knee injury was too much to overcome.
“I love this game and have put my heart and soul into it for as long as I can remember,” Ballard’s statement read in part. “After sustaining a serious knee injury while playing for the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, my body never felt the same. Having a quality of life after football is very important to me and I have witnessed it taken away from others. I will miss the game tremendously, but I am ready for this next chapter in my life.”
It’s too bad. Ballard is a good guy who came up with a couple of big plays for the Cardinals after signing last season, including a crucial catch in the game-winning drive in Seattle (seen below). Just a few months ago, he was saying that he already felt better on the field than he did last season. “I feel like I am almost back to my old self. And that’s a relief.” Apparently, that good feeling didn’t last.
“It was an honor and a privilege to play for the NY Giants, New England Patriots, and most recently the Arizona Cardinals,” Ballard’s statement continued. “I met amazing people from all of my teammates, to opponents, to trainers, to coaches, to owners, and everyone in between. I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your fraternity and I wish you all nothing but success.”
Big picture, it’s hard to know if there is any cause-and-effect whether Ballard’s decision — or the troubles it was giving him in camp — had anything to do with how Darren Fells has been playing or the prism within which coach Bruce Arians has seen Fells as he praised him publicly the last few days. Knowing the Cardinals will have four tight ends on the roster, it seems like a quartet of John Carlson, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas and Fells makes some sense.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Darren Fells, Jake Ballard, John Carlson, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas
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Bruce Arians was short and sweet during his press conference today, which means the news is little and the grind of camp has officially set in. Until games begin to be played, players can start proving themselves on the field against another time and, you know — stuff happens — I’d imagine there won’t be a torrent of news. One thing from today is that guard Jonathan Cooper, tight end Jake Ballard and tackle Nate Potter are all taking the practice off because of sore knees, but all three are expected to practice against Wednesday.
That’ll give Earl Watford a chance to work with the ones all through practice today. He said he’s getting better in cutting down the mental mistakes. How that offensive line filters out will be one of the more intriguing parts of the camp and preseason. Arians usually dressed seven on game days. After the starters, that would mean a swing tackle (Starks?) and a G/C combo (Larsen, probably). So if Cooper starts, does that mean Watford is inactive again? Where does Potter stand, or Bradley Sowell (the latter of whom is probably in trouble roster-wise if Starks proves usable.)
Some of it will have to do with youth and keeping players around if you feel they can develop, as well as the numbers across the rest of the roster. But now that Starks is here, someone is going to be the odd man out. And there could be a couple that end up odd.
— WR John Brown, who has missed three practices with a bad hamstring, will be back out at practice.
— Arians is very happy with the way rookie safety Deone Bucannon is playing at dollar linebacker, which is his spot in the nickel defense.
— There is still a chance the Cardinals could keep five running backs on the roster, depending on special teams. That would seem to open a possible spot for Jalen Parmele. The first four of Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, Jonathan Dwyer and Robert Hughes looks more and more solid.
Tags: Bradley Sowell, Bruce Arians, Deone Bucannon, Earl Watford, Jake Ballard, Jalen Parmele, John Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Max Starks, Nate Potter, offensive line, Ted Larsen, training camp
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Bruce Arians said today that the starting right tackle and starting right guard positions are Bobby Massie’s and Paul Fanaika’s to lose, which he also said has more to do with how well they are doing than what Bradley Sowell and Earl Watford are not doing. Arians even said Massie did not show up on the mental-error sheet from Saturday’s first practice, which is a big deal. “We’re not going to shuffle a lot anymore,”Arians said, although he emphasized “there is plenty of time to win or lose a job once we start hitting.”
The pads go on Monday.
Watford is “more than ready” to contend for a starting job, Arians said but Fanaika is playing well. And again, things can change. “If anyone says they are starting you are writing the wrong thing,” Arians said with a chuckle.
In other news:
— Much more in a Patrick Peterson story here, but the Pro Bowl cornerback will not be playing receiver or returning punts this season. Neither move is a surprise, although Arians said Tyrann Mathieu’s injury did not play a factor. Peterson also said he is not unhappy he doesn’t yet have a new contract. “Those guys are still talking,” Peterson said, in reference to ongoing contract negotiations. “I’m here to play football. I have two years left on my deal and I want to do the best I can to help this team win. I haven’t been to the playoffs since I’ve been here and that’s my first goal.”
— Tight end Jake Ballard is the first injury of camp, although Arians said his thigh bruise is minor. He’ll skip today’s practice but could be back Monday.
— Arians said he was disappointed in the number of mental errors committed by offensive veterans on Saturday.
— LB John Abraham remains absent. “I won’t really comment on it,” Arians said. “I won’t get into personal things. He’s got my blessing.”
— Arians did say he has been impressed with the work second-year OLB Alex Okafor has done since he got hurt last season as a rookie. Okafor is working with the first unit in place of Abraham.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Bruce Arians, Earl Watford, Jake Ballard, John Abraham, Patrick Peterson, Paul Fanaika, training camp, Tyrann Mathieu
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As camp approaches, some of the Cardinals have begun to leak back into the building, getting in a morning workout. Most of the weight room has been cleared out, with the equipment moved to University of Phoenix Stadium for use at camp, but that didn’t stop guys like Lyle Sendlein, Calais Campbell, Frostee Rucker, Sam Acho and Marcus Benard (among others) today.
Also here were the two key rehabbers: safety Tyrann Mathieu and nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu. Both are expected to be on the physically unable to perform list when camp opens. It doesn’t mean their rehab has gone poorly or slow. But the reality is both ripped up their ACLs late in the season and coming back at the beginning of camp not only doesn’t make a lot of sense it’s probably not fair to ask.
The rehab from a torn ACL carries with it a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty of a timeline, uncertainty of what you can do even when you’re out there doing it on the field. Playing in a game is one thing. But will you be Adrian Peterson, or Robert Griffin III? One-time Cardinals tight end Stephen Spach ripped up his ACL in the Carolina playoff game during the Super Bowl run. He was back on the field six months later, although he said “there is a difference between being able to play and compete and getting to where you feel like it never happened.” It took tight end Jake Ballard a couple years to feel right, although in Ballard’s case, he had other damage besides the ACL.
Ta’amu was hurt almost a month after Mathieu but his injury was only the ACL. Mathieu had other injuries, but his rehab has gone well and he has worried less about what he can do when he plays again and more how quickly he can actually play. Both guys are key pieces to the defense. The one guarantee: The Cardinals will be better when they get back on the field.
— In other news, Mathieu has decided to change agents. It’s not altogether a surprise, since Patrick Peterson — who also had Pat Lawlor as an agent when he came into the league — dropped Lawlor in favor of Joel Segal. What will be interesting to see is if Mathieu, who looks up to Peterson, decides he too will use Segal. Unlike Peterson, Mathieu is going into only his second year of a four-year contract and any new contract is much further down the road. Peterson, of course, is already in (early) talks for a contract extension.
Tags: agents, Alameda Ta'amu, Jake Ballard, Patrick Peterson, PUP, Stephen Spach, training camp, Tyrann Mathieu
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Offensively, the Cardinals need to take a step forward this year. They need to so they don’t pressure the defense as much as last year (especially after some unknowns with defensive changes) and they need to so they can keep up in the NFC West arms race. Good news – there is a confidence there it will happen. Who are the guys who will be at the forefront of that plan? Here’s my guess, at least for the regular-season opener. (If you want to see the defensive picks, click here.)
QB – Carson Palmer. Biggest question around Palmer at this point? What happens in 2015, considering Palmer is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. But he is the guy the Cards will ride or die with this season.
RB – Andre Ellington. No-brainer. He’s earned the right, and we’ll see about the touches per game, which I will guess will be 20 to 22 a game.
WR – Larry Fitzgerald. Big year for Fitz, who scored last year like he once did but is still searching for his first 1,000-yard season since 2011 and who is coming to a crossroads – along with the franchise – with his contract in 2015.
WR – Michael Floyd. He’s a star on the rise. He played well last year, and he should be better this season. The third wide receiver should be Ted Ginn, but I fully expect John Brown to at least have a chance to play a role in the offense.
TE – John Carlson. This is assuming he stays healthy, but Carlson has looked good in the offseason and could prove to be a very nice bargain.
TE – Jake Ballard. At some point – maybe not until 2015 – this will be Troy Niklas’ spot. The rookie is far behind right now. Rob Housler still has a chance to work his way into the lineup. But right now, Ballard is feeling good with his knee and he is closer to the blocker that Arians likes.
LT – Jared Veldheer. The left tackle they have always wanted.
LG – Jonathan Cooper. He’s going to be back to health. Time for the 2013 first round pick to get his time on the field and show why the brass so believes in him.
C – Lyle Sendlein. Old reliable is what they want in the middle.
RG – Earl Watford. Paul Fanaika has been running first unit and there is also veteran Ted Larsen lurking as a possibility. But the Cardinals are hoping Watford comes around and takes control of a job he was drafted to have.
RT – Bobby Massie. Another wide open spot. There’s always a possibility of a late-summer free agent signing. Bradley Sowell isn’t go to go away. But Massie has looked better in the offseason work and in a lot of ways, this is probably his last chance to take ahold of the place he held as a rookie.
So that’s that. There will be a lot of time and practices between now and the opener. Injuries happen. Battles will be won or lost. We will see how this guesstimate (educated as it might be) holds up.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Carson Palmer, Earl Watford, Jake Ballard, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, John Carlson, Jonathan Cooper, Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein, Michael Floyd, Paul Fanaika, Rob Housler, Ted Ginn, Troy Niklas
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Robby, Bruce Arians said, has had a “fantastic” offseason so far. And that’s at least a start.
Where Rob Housler goes from there, we’ll see. It seems that Housler’s “make-or-break” year, or “year to make a leap” has been every year except his first. The Cardinals are still waiting, and now the reality of the NFL means time grows short. Housler is in the last year of his rookie contract. The Cardinals signed John Carlson (who has looked very good so far), brought Jake Ballard back to health and drafted Troy Niklas. Even, at least in the heat of OTAs, Darren Fells has looked the part. Arians has called his tight ends group “an NFL room right now” and they all certainly look the part. Making this team — and getting playing time — won’t be simple.
Housler, to start, needs to stay on the field. He knows that. He’s battled that since he got into the league, and his ankle injury that derailed him in training camp and then into the regular season last year did not help. Just as things picked up midway through the season he dealt with a missed game with a bad groin. He still had 39 catches and a career-high 454 yards. He still looks like that tight end who could be such a major mismatch/threat down the middle. No, he’s not the blocker that perhaps Arians wants at the position, but he still can bring much to an offense.
With his contract coming up, the motivation will never be greater. Given how the offense runs, Housler’s never going to be a 70-catch guy. Not here. But he can be more than he has been. Arians feels confident with the guys he has at the position now, and seeing how Housler fits into the puzzle — and how that impacts him beyond 2014 — is one of the more intriguing parts of this season.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Darren Fells, Jake Ballard, John Carlson, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas
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There are, in the end, few starting spots that will truly be up for grabs as the Cardinals move toward the regular season. That’s reality. But as the Cards begin organized team activities today, there are some things to watch for. Through the Phase 2 work, there have been certain people running with the first unit. For instance, on the offensive line, Bradley Sowell is the first-team right tackle and Paul Fanaika remains the starting right guard. Bobby Massie and Earl Watford are with the second team. I don’t know if that is going to change before we get to training camp — I’d be a little surprised if it did — and camp will be when Massie and Watford will have to make their push.
At tight end, there’s been a lot of work for John Carlson and Jake Ballard and I think Rob Housler is going to have to work hard to stay up on the depth chart, although with his skill set and Bruce Arians’ love for multiple tight ends there will be plenty of work to go around. On defense, Kevin Minter and Daryl Washington are your inside linebackers, although Larry Foote is there to step in if Washington can’t be there. On the outside, Matt Shaughnessy and Sam Acho are getting reps although I’d expect John Abraham to be the starter when he’s around (remember, all this work is voluntary right now).
The rookies, meanwhile, will be worked in slowly. It was interesting to see first-round pick Deone Bucannon basically shadow Tony Jefferson at strong safety during the Phase 2 run-throughs of defensive plays. That’s one way to learn on the job. I anticipate a two-field system like last summer for the young players, although we’ll see if Arians sticks with that. I’ll have more after today’s workout.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Deone Bucannon, Earl Watford, Jake Ballard, John Abraham, John Carlson, Kevin Minter, Larry Foote, Matt Shaughnessy, OTAs, Rob Housler, Sam Acho, Tony Jefferson
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Bruce Arians said at the Scouting combine he wants his tight ends to block first, catch second. And it the second round of the draft, the Cardinals took a tight end who is big enough to fulfill that role. Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas, at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, had 32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns this season, but that probably won’t be his priority in Arizona.
“He should become the best blocking tight end in football, if he decides he wants to,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.
The Cardinals now have newcomer John Carlson, Jake Ballard and Rob Housler as the top tight ends. There is no question Niklas will get his time in the two-tight end sets the Cards use. He’s got room for growth. He was recruited to Notre Dame as a defensive end and moved to linebacker before getting chance at tight end. He played both offensive line and defensive line in high school. He was used almost exclusively as a blocker in 2012, so his receiving skills should only improve.
His nickname is Hercules, so he’s got that going for him.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Jake Ballard, John Carlson, Mike Mayock, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas
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