With about a month left before training camp (already?!?), it’s time to take a look at who I think the offensive starters will be come Sept. 10, when the Cardinals play the Lions in Detroit to begin the regular season. Could a training camp signing change things? Sure. I see more of a chance of that defensively than offensively.
My defensive thoughts are here. And after that, the blog posts will slow. Time off coming.
QB – Carson Palmer. You can’t get anywhere without a quarterback. Palmer finished strong in 2016. He’s a year older, yes, and no one is calling him a top-five QB. But he’s still very good when the offense functions well, and when his receivers don’t let him down.
RB – David Johnson. MVP-type player. Is he going to get 100 scrimmage yards every game? Maybe not, but he’s certainly going to have the opportunity. With his skills, and health, I’m not ruling out a 1,000-1,000 season.
WR – Larry Fitzgerald. After Bruce Arians had said more than once Fitz’s 100-catch days were behind him, Fitz has had two straight 100-catch seasons. Won’t be surprised to see him do it again. The question will be, is this his last season?
WR – Smokey Brown. He says he’s healthy. The Cards need him to be. Rookie Chad Williams may have an intriguing future, but this year, the Cardinals need the I-can-get-1,000-yards John Brown.
TE – Jermaine Gresham. So many have questioned his new large contract. But he’s been the best tight end the Cards have had since he showed up, and he does deliver some intangibles on the field this team can use.
TE – Troy Niklas. It’s a leap, yes, to assume Niklas will stay healthy. But every time, in the brief times, Niklas has been on the field, they like what he has brought. He’s not going to be a big pass-catcher. But he can block and he’ll play an important role – again, if he’s on the field.
LT – D.J. Humphries. He’s better suited for the left side. It’s tough for Jared Veldheer, but given ages and the future, this was all but predetermined when Humphries was drafted.
LG – Mike Iupati. Wasn’t as good in 2016 as he was in 2015, but I expect a rally. It’s important too – given his salary going forward, his age and the drafting of Dorian Johnson, the spotlight will be bright.
C – A.Q. Shipley. Showed the Cardinals he could start in this league. No reason to think he won’t again.
RG – Evan Boehm. I don’t see Johnson jumping into this job. Not yet. This is probably the second-most likely spot Keim could grab a vet, behind only No. 2 cornerback. But as it stands, Boehm is probably going to be out there.
RT – Jared Veldheer. Veldheer didn’t want to move from left to right tackle, but he did for the good of the team. Is there a transition to be made? Yes. Somehow, I don’t have much concern that Veldheer will make it work successfully.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Carson Palmer, D.J. Humphries, David Johnson, Evan Boehm, Jared Veldheer, Jermaine Gresham, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Troy Niklas
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D.J. Humphries was praised by both Steve Keim and Bruce Arians after his initial foray at left tackle Sunday. Looking at all of Humphries’ 71 snaps against the Falcons, the video seems to bear that out. Without knowing exactly what the play was designed to do or what the protection called for, there were only a few plays in which Humphries looked like he was beat and it caused a problem for Carson Palmer.
The first time, Dwight Freeney used a speed rush around the edge and pressured Palmer, although the ball was completed for a nine-yard pass on third-and-20. There were a couple two drives later, when the Falcons used a stunt from an inside rusher coming around the outside to get pressure, although Palmer still managed an eight-yard completion. Later that drive, Freeney’s spin move worked but Palmer had already thrown the pass.
Humphries did whiff on Freeney on a play right before halftime, but it was the pass to J.J. Nelson to set up the late field goal. There was one more play late in the game in which it looked like there was an offensive line miscommunication, and a blitzer was allowed to come off the edge free.
Generally, though, Humphries did his job. He did not allow a sack.
Arians was asked if Humphries could end up as the long-term left tackle. Certainly he figures to be there the rest of this season. Beyond, when Jared Veldheer comes back? That is an excellent question. It’s not like the idea of Veldheer at right tackle is far-fetched. He is making “left-tackle money,” but as long as Humphries is on his rookie deal, the Cardinals will be paying the same regardless of what side each is on. Humphries is a natural left tackle too.
But Veldheer has played left tackle virtually his whole career, and Humphries did prep all offseason through Veldheer’s trip to IR playing the right side. There are pros and cons to both situations. Arians’ response was that it was a wait-and-see approach. It’ll definitely be something to watch as the offseason workouts unfold.
Tags: D.J. Humphries, Jared Veldheer, offensive line
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Steve Keim has looked at his offensive line since the day he started. He signed Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati as his most high-profile free-agent additions. He drafted D.J. Humphries with the idea he could eventually upgrade at tackle over Bobby Massie. He signed Evan Mathis as a veteran to be the other guard this season.
We know how it’s turned out so far.
Veldheer and Mathis are done for the season with injuries. Humphries has gone through growing pains this year after sitting all of last year. Iupati, banged up himself, has struggled of late. Fellow guard Earl Watford, Mathis’ replacement, has also been banged up this week. The players off the bench are inexperienced.
As Carson Palmer said this week, continuity is ideal along the line — and the Cardinals have not had continuity. Not anymore. That isn’t to say there weren’t issues anyway, but juggling up front is not what you want. The Cardinals will likely need to score Sunday in Atlanta, since the Falcons are the league’s top scoring team. We might see a steady diet of David Johnson running, but it’s not like the Falcons don’t know that either. In a season of up-and-down offensive production, the tenuous nature of the offensive line has not helped.
“We’ll have five of them out there, for sure,” coach Bruce Arians said.
— Michael Floyd might yet play Sunday even after hurting his hamstring and missing Thursday and Friday on the practice field. But it seems like anything that could go wrong for the free-agent-to-be wide receiver this season has.
— Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will have Patrick Peterson on him most of the game Sunday. Teams have sometimes had a cornerback “travel” to cover Jones, but Jones said it usually comes with a caveat.
“Teams have been trying to do that, but they’ve been playing a lot of two-man while they were doing it,” Jones said. “They’ll take their ‘OK’ corner and put him over me and then just have safety help, and try to put the better corner on the other side, try to let him lock that side down. Pat P, it’s just usually one-on-one.”
— So it turns out neither Peterson — for his unnecessary roughness call for knocking down QB-turned-WR Sam Bradford — or Tony Jefferson — for his hit on the still-trying-to-go-forward Stefon Diggs — were fined for their play. It’s fair to wonder if that means the league disagreed with the calls. Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson was fined $18,231 for his fourth-down hit on Palmer that extended the Cards’ final drive.
— The Vikings offensive linemen weren’t happy with Peterson about the hit. But Arians defended his player, not surprisingly, starting with the fact Bradford was lined up as a wide receiver and no longer had quarterback protections.
“That’s my understanding, and he just threw a flea-flicker on the exact same play, so don’t let it happen,” Arians said. “(Peterson) did what he was coached to do.”
As for the Vikings offensive linemen being upset, “Well, they shouldn’t have threw the flea-flicker the first time then,” Arians said. “He ain’t going to let it happen a second time.”
— The Cardinals are trying to get past an interception drought. They have now gone four games without one, the last time picking off an opposing QB coming way back on Oct. 17 when they nailed Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. Matt Ryan has just five interceptions this season (compared to 24 touchdown passes) but the Cardinals have gotten to Ryan in the past. He threw four interceptions against the Cardinals in Arizona in a 2013 game, and five picks in a game against the Cards in Atlanta in 2012. (Alas, the Cards still lost that 2012 matchup.)
— If Carson Palmer throws two touchdown passes, he’ll surpass Joe Montana on the all-time TD passes list. Palmer sits at 272, Montana 273.
When Palmer was asked about it, his response just reinforced to me my thought Palmer has every plan to play in 2017, regardless of how this season has gone/will go.
“What excites me about the game is the anticipation for Sunday, the process, going through and getting mentally prepared and physically prepared, obviously,” Palmer said. “There is no doubt that it would be an honor to do that, but I love playing the game because I love Sundays.”
— So atlantafalcons.com apparently does weekly simulations about the game ahead, and this week, they had the Cardinals winning the game, 21-19, behind David Johnson’s two touchdowns. So there’s that.
Tags: Carson Palmer, D.J. Humphries, David Johnson, Earl Watford, Evan Mathis, fines, Jared Veldheer, Julio Jones, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Steve Keim, Tom Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Vikings
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OK, maybe it’s a little strong to say this is the John Wetzel game, but it’s definitely the beginning of the John Wetzel-half season. Wetzel is the guy who is replacing left tackle Jared Veldheer (torn triceps) for the rest of the season. He isn’t the only variable over which the Cardinals may or may not make the run they need to make, but he is definitely one of the biggest.
“The thing about Wetzel that you have to get over is every time you look at him, he looks freaking miserable,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Just miserable. Makes you upset to your core too, like ‘What’s the problem?’ As long as he’s got that miserable look on his face, that means he’s ready to go, ready to play.”
Wetzel has apparently looked absolutely down in the dumps this week, so optimism reigns.
His appearance, however, is the perfect proof of how this season is different than the fun run of 2015. Somebody as crucial as Veldheer didn’t get hurt this early last season (Tyrann Mathieu’s injury came as the Cards were wrapping up the division.) All the key guys were basically healthy. The offense had no question marks. Not like now. The Cards should get better offensively Sunday, because the 49ers defense is simply bad. Can they keep up something consistent through the rest of the schedule? Through the rest of a five-road-games-in-the-final-seven-weeks schedule?
— Underscoring the injuries. The Cardinals have had 58 different players appear in at least one game this season. The Cards had only 56 players appear in at least one game all of last season.
— David Johnson ran for a season-high 157 yards against the 49ers. The Niners have allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven straight games, a ignominious NFL record. Everything points to a lot of Johnson this week.
“If you’re getting 5-to-10 (yards a try), you keep it up, but it’s hard to get 5-to-10,” coach Bruce Arians said. “If you’re giving up five, you’re not very good. Sooner or later, you’re not going to get five and your quarterback’s not in any kind of a rhythm to get a first down on third down. So, you’ve got to mix it up.”
— Granted, it’s because questions are asked, but there has been a lot of positive things spoken about both Smokey Brown and about Michael Floyd this week. The Niners aren’t exactly great against the pass either. Would it shock me to use Johnson sometimes as the decoy to open up the passing game? No.
— The Cardinals are No. 1 in the NFL in total defense. It’d be nice to stay there against this opponent.
— What’s missing on offense, according to Goodwin? (Hint: It’s no surprise): “Getting those explosive plays, which we have a number we want to hit, is key to our offense,” Goodwin said. “As far as getting enthusiasm going, getting excitement going, getting chunk plays. We have to get back to that.”
Goodwin said he wouldn’t say how many the Cards want to hit per game, but it was more than five. Let’s say an explosive play is at least 20 yards — the Cardinals have 31 such plays this season in eight games. That’s less than four per game.
— No Tyrann Mathieu and no Tharold Simon mean a pretty big opportunity for either Brandon Williams or Justin Bethel. The season hasn’t gone the way either of them have wanted, not at cornerback. This is an important moment for at least one to make a mark.
— While I hope everyone got a chance to see the recent Pat Tillman “A Football Life” episode, I hope you also check out our most recent Zoom episode on Tillman. That’s the full interview that Tillman gave in the summer of 2001 that gives an insight into Tillman the person. It’s fascinating, especially in hindsight.
— In each of his three previous Cardinals seasons, Arians has had his team with a winning streak of four games, six games and
eight nine games. The Cardinals have only a two-game winning streak this season so far.
— Don’t forget the annual food drive before Sunday’s game. Volunteers from St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance and Cardinals Cheerleaders will be at collection points outside of all five stadium gates and the Great Lawn. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and/or money for donation.
— The second half has arrived. The Cardinals need it to be so much better than the first.
Tags: 49ers, Brandon Williams, Bruce Arians, David Johnson, Harold Goodwin, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, John Wetzel, Justin Bethel, Michael Floyd, Pat Tillman
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The Cardinals officially put tackle Jared Veldheer and tight end Ifeanyi Momah on injured reserve today. To fill those roster spots, the team brought back guard Taylor Boggs — who was with the Cardinals in the preseason — and promoted safety Christian Bryant from the practice squad. The addition of Boggs means that for now, the Cards will deal with a tackle situation that is thinner than before. Ulrick John would be the top reserve, although starting right guard Earl Watford can play there, although it likely wouldn’t be ideal.
Boggs had gotten praise a couple of times in training camp from coach Bruce Arians. He can also play some center.
The Cardinals also cut tackle Martin Wallace from the practice squad. Replacing Wallace and the promoted Bryant are tight end Brian Leonhardt and linebacker Zaviar Gooden. Leonhardt has played in 16 games in his career with the Raiders and 49ers, while Gooden was a one-time third-round pick who has played in 25 games with the Titans and Lions.
Tags: Brian Leonhardt, Christian Bryant, Earl Watford, Ifeanyi Momah, Jared Veldheer, Martin Wallace, Taylor Boggs, Ulrick John, Zaviar Gooden
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The Cardinals have a bye week coming. And there will be some roster changes, General Manager Steve Keim said Monday.
“I would say there will be a few,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 “We’ll take a look at some different players. There should be a change or two.”
How much of that is voluntary and how much is forced upon the Cardinals is yet to be seen. Keim said left tackle Jared Veldheer — who was wearing a heavy wrap on his right arm in the locker room after leaving Sunday’s game — has a triceps injury. Keim said the team was still determining the extent of the injury, but that’s one where you wonder if it could be serious. Even if it isn’t long-term, the Cards may need an extra tackle available if Veldheer misses time. (Keim didn’t address Tyrann Mathieu’s shoulder, but he too is getting an MRI today.)
UPDATE: Veldheer needs surgery and is done for the season.
The rest of Keim’s shorter segment had to do with the second half and the big picture.
“The bye couldn’t come at a better time, not only getting healthy but also to reassess where we are at,” Keim said.
— The loss in Carolina was a “microcosm of the season as a whole,” Keim said. A slow start, unacceptable mistakes after. There were too many penalties, Keim said, and the pass protection was poor, which certainly was no secret. Keim said he was particularly disappointed in the play of guard Mike Iupati and Earl Watford.
— Keim didn’t have much to say about the fumble/review non-change, other than to say “if there are any complaints on our side, it’s frustration and excuses, because we had the opportunities to overcome those.”
— Keim said he thought Carson Palmer threw the ball exceptionally well — when he had time — and that J.J. Nelson has made excellent progress.
— He was disappointed in the tackling, and that the edge rush and intensity the team had had on defense the past few games was missing.
— Keim said the “silver lining” of the postseason scenarios is the NFC West and the fact no team is running away with anything. “We are certainly in a position to challenge,” he said. Keim is right of course, saying the Cardinals still basically control their destiny. He noted that in 2008, the left the field in both Philadelphia on Thanksgiving night and in New England wondering if that team was below average. Then they got hot and made the Super Bowl. Keim emphasized the wasn’t saying that would happen with this year’s version, but noted this team has a similar chance to prove people wrong.
— “We will certainly see the second half of the season how many of these guys are mentally tough,” Keim said. “This team hasn’t faced a lot of adversity the last few years. Now, we have.”
Tags: Carson Palmer, Earl Watford, J.J. Nelson, Jared Veldheer, Mike Iupati, Steve Keim
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It’s a weekly occurrence, the concern about the Cardinals’ deep ball that just isn’t there anymore. Is there anything that can be done about it? Maybe not. It’s a simple equation for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin of why they’ve dried up.
“Because no one is giving them to us,” Goodwin said. “People are playing deep coverage on us, and forcing us to make intermediate and underneath throws. That’s one reason the running game is a little bit better too.
“People know we live for the shot and people aren’t going to give it it up anymore. We respect that. We just have to beat them in different ways.”
The Panthers are a team that’s had problems on the back end and would seem to be susceptible down the field. Then again, the same things were said about the game against the Jets and the Jets played off and the Cardinals bludgeoned them to death with David Johnson. The Panthers are stout against the run, but the Cards aren’t giving up that part of the game.
But Bruce Arians continues to say — with a stronger nod to running the ball these days — that there will be times to take shots and some are still open. Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer definitely lamented the J.J. Nelson bomb against the Seahawks that Palmer simply threw too far out of bounds.
“I missed a couple,” Palmer said. “I had J.J. on a couple the other night. I’ve taken shots that I shouldn’t have in certain situations. I think one thing I need to do is be a little bit more picky – when to take them, when not to take them. That’s something I’ve really been trying to work on.”
— I didn’t think the Panthers were going to be 15-1 again this season. But they shouldn’t be 1-5. I thought Kelvin Benjamin was going to be a huge upgrade in helping their passing game. In all honesty, I didn’t think Josh Norman — or a lack thereof — would have this sort of an impact.
— Larry Fitzgerald had a tough flight home the last time the Cardinals were in Carolina. Bruce Arians, not so much. “Steve (Keim) and I were working on next year already.”
— The Cardinals need better special teams. And not just Chandler Catanzaro kicking field goals. Protections have to be cleaned up. Last week, the Cards were hurt when Jaron Brown went down, forcing Kerwynn Williams in as a wing protector on the punt team. Williams is the one who surrendered the blocked punt. There’s no question injuries have taken a toll on special team — Four guys on IR, Tyvon Branch, Jaron Brown, Alani Fua and Troy Niklas, were all key special teams pieces to begin the year.
“You always have to be ready,” special teamer Stepfan Taylor said. “It’s kind of a want-to and a technique kind of deal. We do a good job of everybody ready, but you can only suit up 46 people in the game. It becomes limited. You have people who have never played it before having to be in-game ready and jump in.”
— We’ll see if the 10 a.m. kickoff Arizona time impacts anything. The Cardinals didn’t play well in the 10 a.m. kickoff in Buffalo, although I’m not sure that was time-related. It would’ve been better to have the 1:25 p.m. Az time kick as originally scheduled (TV moved it because both teams aren’t playing well), but it’s not like they haven’t done it before. The team is in the air right now flying out to Carolina.
At least I’ll get home at a reasonable time. Hey, I’m looking at the silver lining.
— Injuries will play a big role in how the pass rushes for both teams might look. When the Cardinals are on offense, how does left tackle Jared Veldheer hold up with a cast on his right hand against the formidable Carolina defensive line? On the other side, not having starting left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) could make things interesting against edge rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.
— One last word on the two field goal block/miss in Seattle. The NFL explains why both were legal in this video.
— There’s been a lot of talk about the tie the Panthers had in 2014, allowing them to win the NFC South at 7-8-1 over the 7-9 Saints. In context, of course, it was a point made after the Cardinals had their own tie last weekend. There’s only one problem — while the tie made the final standings cleaner in terms of seeing who won, the Panthers were going to win the division anyway. The Panthers and Saints split their two games, and the Panthers had a better division record. So even if the Panthers had lost and not tied the Bengals, they would’ve won the South.
— Don’t forget the Pat Tillman “A Football Life” tonight at 6 p.m. on NFL Network (and probably replaying a time or two. Check your local listing.)
— The Cardinals get the bye next week. There’s a pretty big difference between 4-3-1 and 3-4-1. At least in the chase to make the postseason.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro, Chandler Jones, Harold Goodwin, Jared Veldheer, Jaron Brown, Kerwynn Williams, Markus Golden, Panthers, Pat Tillman, Stepfan Taylor
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One of the important parts of the end-of-preseason roster choices will be how the Cardinals choose to divvy up their offensive line spots. As of now we have the five starters — from left tackle across, it’ll be Jared Veldheer, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Evan Mathis and D.J. Humphries. Beyond that, you figure they keep fourth-round center Evan Boehm and Swiss Army knife lineman Earl Watford, who is still recovering from a knee injury. Does rookie guard Cole Toner stick? Guard Antoine McClain? Tackle John Wetzel? Do they add a guy?
Watford started two games at right tackle last year and is a strong possibility to play there if Humphries goes down. For now, coach Bruce Arians made it a little more clear how they would handle the backup tackle situation on the left. If Veldheer got hurt, Arians said, the move would likely be to switch Humphries — who spent his college days as a left tackle — back over to the left, and then fill in the right.
Arians also had a good line about what the Cardinals ask their offensive tackles to do.
“Block the best players on the other team,” Arians said. “That’s pretty much it. those defensive ends get paid a bunch of money. They get paid a million dollars a sack, you get paid half-a-million for 59 good blocks.”
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Antoine McClain, Bruce Arians, Cole Toner, D.J. Humphries, Earl Watford, Evan Boehm, Evan Mathis, Jared Veldheer, John Wetzel, Mike Iupati
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The Cardinals have been tight up against the salary cap — overthecap.com estimates they have (had?) only about $2.2 million in space, the NFLPA puts the number around $3.4 million — and usually at this time of year, GM Steve Keim likes to have more wiggle room than this. That’s partly to account for unknowns (IR players, needing to sign veteran help) and for potential other plans (like a contract extension.)
That’s why it was interesting but not altogether shocking to see the Field Yates tweet this morning saying the team had converted $6M of left tackle Jared Veldheer’s $7.25M salary into a signing bonus. It would be an immediate win-win. Veldheer gets his money now instead of in 17 installments over the season, the Cardinals create $4M more of salary cap room (although they push some of Veldheer’s cap hit into future years, so there is a down side.)
It becomes a little more interesting after Bruce Arians’ comment on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday that the Cardinals are hoping to have another three or four extensions done at some point. That may be overly optimistic, but we will see — the Cards certainly have a laundry list of players who are up after the season. The Cards also might want to add a vet for depth on the offensive line too, although in my opinion D.J. Humphries is progressing just fine at right tackle. But the final decisions at center and right tackle remain up in the air for now.
There’s another point to be made about extensions too, and that’s any bigger one probably could lower the current salary cap number for a particular player, say a Chandler Jones (who I would guess be next of the big names the Cards would want to try and lock up) or a Michael Floyd or Calais Campbell. Their cap numbers for this year, respectively, are $7.8M, $7.3M and $15.25M. The recent Palmer and Fitzgerald extensions didn’t impact the cap. Those moves were about gaining roster certainty for 2017.
In any event, Keim now would have some room to do any number of things as the Cards set up for what they hope is a deep run this season.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Jared Veldheer, Michael Floyd, Steve Keim
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A quick lunchtime update from training camp, amid multiple reports that the Cardinals and Tyrann Mathieu have agreed on a contract extension. Nothing official yet, so we’ll see how it plays out. In the meantime:
— On the injury front, WR J.J. Nelson (groin), WR Franky Okafor (ankle) and DT Ed Stinson (calf) got hurt Monday. LB Alani Fua hurt his knee and that’s the one the Cards are most concerned about. Fua is having an MRI to determine the severity.
— QB Carson Palmer will have a vets day off Tuesday. Larry Fitzgerald was supposed to, but with all the receiver injuries, he’s going to do some work.
— Arians on LT Jared Veldheer, who weighed about 310 last year but it up to 330 this year despite cutting body fat. “When he came to us he was a mountain,” Arians said. “Last year he was a pole.” Arians said Veldheer needed the weight after getting bullrushed too much in 2015.
Tags: Jared Veldheer, training camp, Tyrann Mathieu
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