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Smokey Brown active against Ravens

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2015 – 3:59 pm

Smoke said he was good to go and it turns out he is, so wide receiver John Brown is among the active players for tonight’s game against the Ravens, a positive thing for the Cardinals. It should be noted, however, that with Brown’s hamstring issues of the last two weeks, the Cardinals will have all six wide receivers active for the game — including both Brittan Golden and rookie J.J. Nelson, who is playing in his first games since hurting his shoulder in Chicago.

The Cardinals, with Darren Fells hurt, also only have two tight ends active — Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas — so I would guess in the situations where the Cards need a third tight end in jumbo situations, we’ll see reserve center A.Q. Shipley. (Or maybe, with the Ravens’ struggling secondary, we will just see lots and lots of three- and four-wide receiver sets).

The full inactive list for the Cardinals:

— QB Matt Barkley

— LB Alex Okafor (calf)

— LB Shaq Riddick

— T D.J. Humphries

— T Earl Watford

— TE Darren Fells (shoulder)

— NT Xavier Williams


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Gresham, Floyd, Niklas all active

Posted by Darren Urban on September 13, 2015 – 11:28 am

All those game-day decision Bruce Arians said he had turned into guys that are playing, which is good news for the Cardinals. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas are both active, as is wide receiver Michael Floyd — who just had surgery on his dislocated fingers on Aug. 5. An impressive comeback for Floyd, although after watching him dive on the turf in the practice bubble this week for onside kick recoveries it sure seemed a good bet he’d be playing.

Because of that, the inactive list contains few surprises:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR Brittan Golden (meaning David Johnson probably will return kickoffs)

— LB Shaq Riddick

— T D.J. Humphries

— G Mike Iupati (knee)

— TE Joseph Fauria

— DT Xavier Williams


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CJ’s tears, and Friday before the Saints

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2015 – 4:00 pm

Big picture, there are a lot of expectations around the Cardinals this season, as the games that count begin Sunday against the Saints at University of Phoenix Stadium. But sometimes, there is the smaller picture, the one of the journey traveled by individual guys to get to this point, like with Carson Palmer’s intense ACL rehab or Earl Watford’s roller-coaster career to suddenly starting right tackle or rookie Rodney Gunter going from nobody to nose tackle.

There is running back Chris Johnson, who everyone knows as the 2,000-yard rusher (way back in 2009) and the guy who didn’t quite fit in with the Jets. But now he’s the running back who was shot in a drive-by in March, his shoulder still carrying the bullet and leaving him mentally shattered.

“Lot of nights crying myself to sleep,” he said Friday.

Johnson was in mourning at that point, fearing the loss of his career. When he was forced into bedrest for six weeks, “that’s when I wondered about what direction my life would take.”

Flash forward to today, where he’s part of the three-pronged running back attack with Andre Ellington and David Johnson, prepping for the Saints. Chris Johnson may not be running for 1,000 yards this season, but he certainly sounds motivated to make yet another one-year deal for a vet by GM Steve Keim look like a bargain.

— Speaking of Johnson, he switched from jersey number 27 to 23. Why? He just didn’t like 27. Neither did Palmer, it turned out.

“It didn’t look good,” Johnson said. “Playing in it, always knew I didn’t like it but once Carson said something to me I knew it was time for me to get out of it.”

The two were playing cards on the plane during the road trip to Denver, and Johnson said Palmer asked him point-blank, “Twenty-seven? You going to stay in that number?” Johnson made up his mind then. “I was like, ‘Nah, I gotta get out of that number.”

— Arians said Michael Floyd was a game-day decision, but it certainly seems like Floyd is trending toward playing. Whether he’d be the “normal” Floyd in terms of gameplan, I don’t know.

— The tight end situation, and the iffy status of both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas, is the more interesting injury watch. Those two are also game-day decisions. If I had to pick one, I’d say Gresham would play, but we’ll see. If a choice had to be made is a gimpy Gresham or Niklas better than the just-got-here Joseph Fauria?

— There is a lot of talk about how Watford will hold up or the pressure on Palmer or the pass rush, but honestly, one of the top things I’m watching for is Patrick Peterson versus Brandin Cooks. Peterson has set himself up for a big year, a big year that’s needed. Cooks is a tough draw with his speed. Peterson said a key is to stay close, so a simple Cooks wiggle won’t let him get away and race for a big gain. The spotlight has never been brighter on Peterson, whose 2015 confidence is apparent.

— Bruce Arians had to be careful with the game plan this week. Don’t want to make it too hard on the players because of volume.

“You have so much offense and defense from training camp,” Arians said. “A lot of times you feel you have to use it all. That’s a bad feeling when you can’t practice everything you have. Then you have way too much in there.”

— Arians said the offensive prep remains the same with Palmer. Palmer gets to pick the top 15 pass plays with which he is most comfortable, and Arians puts in running plays for the top 30 calls for the game.

— If it’s the Saints, then you have to always tip your cap to the fingertip-less Rashad Johnson, still plugging away after that fateful day in New Orleans almost two years ago. “I’ve got nine more” remains one of the best quotes ever.

— The Cardinals have only lost once in nine home openers at University of Phoenix Stadium. That was 2009, a 20-16 loss to the 49ers coming off the Super Bowl appearance. Oh, and the Cards have yet to lose a home game to a non-NFC West team since Arians took over.

— There’s been a lot said and written the past week. If you missed Cardinals Underground, or Kyle Odegard’s story about the Saints-Cards trade that netted the Cards John Brown or my story on Fitz and where he is in his career, please check them out.

— Otherwise, it’s time for an actual game that counts. (OK, first I have to write a story about the facility renovations and the cool new Tillman locker tribute, to be posted soon). There’s been plenty of talk about it.

See you Sunday.

FridayBeforeBLOG


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Tight end takes another injury hit

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2015 – 2:31 pm

Darren Fells chuckled. I mean, what else can you do? It’s not funny with all the injuries the team’s tight end room has absorbed — the latest being a knee problem for Ifeanyi Momah, after he got hurt in Tuesday’s practice — but it’s better than crying. Or punching a wall in frustration. Fells is the one healthy tight end, although Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) did finally practice full on Wednesday and Troy Niklas (hamstring) was able to go limited.

UPDATE: Momah will reportedly have to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus. I would guess Bruce Arians will give the official diagnosis Thursday.

“I don’t know what to say anymore,” Fells said, shaking his head.

(Wide receiver Michael Floyd also returned to practice on a limited basis, even diving to catch one pass.)

Fells laughed again when told that Bruce Arians said he wasn’t worried about his tight ends because at least “we’ve still got one.” That’s Fells, who has maintained his post atop the depth chart, the place he’s been since the summer when the tight ends began their roller coaster journey on the surprise retirement of John Carlson.

“That’s all you can do is laugh about it because … I mean, it’s a bad thing, but all you can do is, like B.A. always says, have next man up,” Fells said. Fells admitted, with all the two-tight end and three-tight end sets the Cards like to use, the lack of bodies makes things hard.

At least Fells is there, though, knocking on the wood of his locker.

DarrenFellsUSE


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Broncos/CJ and Spoon aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2015 – 10:52 pm

Sean Weatherspoon as he noted the exact date when he had last played in an NFL game: Dec. 22, 2013. It took him a little longer to get back out there than he wanted – and the same goes for Chris Johnson – but there they were Thursday night. They didn’t play like superstars but they both played well, and that’s exactly what the Cardinals needed to see after aborted training camps for both.

Everyone can bag on preseason games if they want, but the two vets were exhibits 1 and 1A of why they are always a necessity for someone. Said Johnson, who hadn’t played in a game since last season and only had a handful of practices with the Cardinals with a bad hamstring, “I don’t think I needed to start the season not getting reps because I did it one time before and I just didn’t feel right the first game.”

Better yet, Bruce Arians said he expects both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas to return to practice this week, so the feeling is that the Cardinals should have more tight ends available than just Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah. If Gresham does indeed return, it’ll turn out that those three vets signed on one-year deals – including Weatherspoon and Johnson – should be available for the opener against the Saints. And that’s what the Cardinals want to hear.

— Both Johnson and Weatherspoon said they need to work on their conditioning. “I’m just thankful to be part of the team and get a chance to go out there,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s good to make some hits, takes some hits.”

— Chandler Catanzaro missed two extra points but Arians didn’t even let the question come up. “No, I’m not concerned about Cat Man and the missed extra points,” Arians said in his opening remarks, saying the question didn’t even need to be asked. I’m sure Catanzaro knows it can’t happen again, but as Arians said, at least it was in a preseason game.

— There were two penalties called on rookie tackle D.J. Humphries on back to back drives, but both were iffy. The false start might not have even been that much of a move. And the holding given to him was apparently on No. 64, Cameron Bradfield, and the officials just messed up the number.

— I thought Earl Watford held up at right tackle, and I fully expect him to be the right tackle starter going into the regular season.

— Rookie wide receiver Jaxon Shipley had 11 targets and nine catches (for 58 yards) and continued to push the best he can. Still, I don’t see him as more than the practice squad right now. He’s not cracking the top five. Same goes for inside linebacker Gabe Martin, who was working hard on defense all night.

— On the flip side, the way Alani Fua was used, I’m guessing he’ll make the 53 at inside linebacker.

— Markus Golden played well at outside linebacker and if Golden isn’t starting early in the season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get to the starting lineup at some point this year.

— He only had three carries, but Stepfan Taylor’s powerful run for 12 yards up the middle made an impression. Maybe he can be the Cards’ short-yardage guy over Robert Hughes, which could open a roster spot if the Cards only want to keep four running backs.

— I thought Phillip Sims came around. I thought Logan Thomas played better. I still think we are talking about the likelihood of carrying two quarterbacks, meaning Sims or Thomas would have to be practice squad. But we’ll see if, after the Cards watch the tape, they are convinced to do otherwise.

— Arians was asked if he was happy the preseason was over.

“Extremely,” he said, as a grin crept over his face.

You can’t see it, but I have a similar grin. Let’s get to the regular season.

Stepfan Taylor, Josh Bush


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Raiders aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2015 – 11:19 pm

There was a lot of talk about needing to watch the video before anyone could say for sure what the biggest problems were for the starting offense Sunday night in Oakland. Bruce Arians insisted there were no pass protection problems, although for whatever reason – whether it was line breakdowns or running backs not helping enough or Carson Palmer holding the ball too long in certain circumstances – it can’t be denied that Palmer was pressured more than anyone would like.

But again, there wasn’t any panic after. There weren’t any major injuries, so in the end, that probably qualifies any preseason game a success. It is true that the starting offense won’t really get a chance to work in a game before the opener. If that side of the ball is worried, nobody showed it afterward in the locker room.

On the flip side, I thought the starting defense held up well. They were put in some tough positions by the offensive struggles, but I thought they were solid, save for that one third-and-16 conversion they allowed.

— Palmer, who had his right knee wrapped with ice in the locker room after the game, took some hits. But it was his own journey outside the pocket that made everyone gasp a bit. It was third-and-9 and Palmer took off up the middle of the field – diving headfirst to make sure he picked up 10 yards and a first down.

“Larry (Fitzgerald) was screaming at me to get down,” Palmer said. “There is no hesitation. You want to get the first down, you want to stay on the field and keep playing. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but it worked out and I got away with it so I got lucky.”

— The second unit offensive line – from right tackle to left tackle, Earl Watford, Anthony Steen, Lyle Sendlein, Jon Halapio and D.J. Humphries – acquitted itself well, I thought. After the way Palmer was harassed, Drew Stanton had some time against the Raiders’ starting defense during his 12-play, 80-yard TD drive.

— Watford, in particular, played well against Khalil Mack. Watford quietly has been pretty solid, and that’s playing through a bad ankle.

— Defensively, Calais Campbell and Alex Okafor were stout against the run, and Kevin Minter made some good plays. Jerraud Powers showed up in coverage.

— I don’t know if Cariel Brooks makes the 53-man roster but making a play like the 81-yard touchdown return tends to help. I think he’s the leader in the clubhouse if the team’s fourth cornerback is already on the roster – I just don’t know if he’s already on the roster.

— Arians said a couple of times that Phillip Sims would come in first in this game because he wanted Logan Thomas to potentially get a two-minute drill. He couldn’t have come up with a better scenario – tie game, 2:18 left on the clock. Thomas came up big, especially after taking a huge hit on his knee at the outset of the drive.

— Speaking of huge hits, tight end Ifeanyi Momah took a big hit too on his catch-and-rumble to set up that game-winning score. It looked worse than it was, Momah said.

“I’m good,” Momah said. “We ran the play a couple times today. The safety kind of cheated over and the middle of the field was wide open and Logan made a good read. I was expecting the safety. I tried to stick my shoulder into him. It was a big hit but I initiated it too. It wasn’t too much of a blindside.”

— Interesting that tight end Jermaine Gresham, who was expected to play, did not. It did not come up when Arians spoke afterward. Chris Johnson said he thinks he’ll play Thursday after skipping Sunday – he could run full speed straight ahead but was having trouble cutting in pre-game warmups.

— It’s a short turnaround. We’re on this plane flying back to Phoenix now, and the Cardinals have practice Monday afternoon to prepare for Thursday’s preseason finale.

RaidersBLOGuse


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Friday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2015 – 10:53 am

Is it me, or does it always seem to be this way about this time, where everyone is just so ready to have football games that count and instead there is still so much time left on the preseason schedule. The Cardinals still have a week left at University of Phoenix Stadium for training camp, three preseason games and another nine days before they even have to have first roster cuts. Yet so much has happened — including the harsh news that Corey Peters is out for the season, which covered up the less-harsh-but-still-harsh Mike Iupati injury news — it just feels like it’s time for the regular season.

But it’s not.

— The Cardinals will play their starters about a quarter against the Chargers, and let’s be real, everyone will cross their fingers on Carson Palmer’s uprightness on every play. The first offense looked so good in the first game. Let’s see how game two goes, with Ted Larsen in the mix at left guard. Another part to watch there is Earl Watford and how much time he’s given at left guard after playing right guard all camp. Can he make inroads to possibly get on the field? It’s year three for Watford. Eventually, he’s going to run out of time to show he belongs in the starting lineup, and Iupati’s injury opens a door.

— I am interested to see Andre Ellington’s work a week later. He looked very promising in the first game. We are supposed to see Chris Johnson, but after he came off the field Thursday with a leg wrap, it’s possible his preseason debut will be delayed.

— Peters, by the way, was officially placed on injured reserve Friday. The Cardinals have two open roster spots.

— We definitely are going to see David Johnson for a good portion of two quarters in his debut. I know he can catch, and I think he’ll be fine there in the games. What I want to see is how he does running the ball.

— Jermaine Gresham ended up not playing last week. Does he make his debut? Bruce Arians didn’t say Gresham wasn’t going to play last week either, so that’s a wait-and-see. Seeing more game time for Troy Niklas, and the continued development of Ifeanyi Momah at tight end are other things I’d to which I’ll pay attention.

— If it turns out that rookie Rodney Gunter can do the job as a starting nose tackle, that will make his tremendous story all the better. (And quite the opposite of first-round tackle D.J. Humphries, although I thought Humphries did OK in the first preseason game, even though Arians clearly wants to see more in practice.) But I also agree with the vets like Calais Campbell who note that the Peters’ injury will be filled by committee. The plan all along was to have all these defensive linemen so there would be a steady rotation. That hasn’t changed.

— I don’t think the Cards will look for a free agent defensive lineman or free agent offensive lineman — at least not at this point — because of the injuries. I do think they will continue to scour carefully what’s out there, both in free agency and once teams start making cuts, to add another cornerback. This is a big game for any cornerback not named Peterson, Powers or Bethel.

— With a game on “Sunday Night Football” next week in Oakland, there is a funky start to the final week of camp. The Cards are off Sunday, practice Monday but then are off again Tuesday. They finish Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, but the Friday schedule has been adjusted to the morning (Check our camp page for details.)

BeforeChargers


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Keim’s first-week analysis of #CardsCamp

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2015 – 8:16 am

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim reiterated today that there could be a trade or two for the Cardinals as the regular season approaches and the team tries to figure out what they do with a couple positions of depth — in particular, the quality group of defensive linemen the team has compiled. He also said, during the first of his weekly appearances on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, that a trade usually comes down to a focus on positions of need rather than the best player available.

As for the Cards’ own positions of need right now, Keim named three spots, all of which have been impacted by early injuries: Running back, inside linebacker and offensive tackle. Running back and tackle, Keim said, are OK when the Cards are healthy and he added Andre Ellington should return to practice this week. (The Cards are also missing David Johnson and Marion Grice, while young tackles D.J. Humphries and Rob Crisp are also out.)

One position Keim is bullish on is tight end. He praised Ifeanyi Momah a ton, which just falls in line with what has been easy to see on the field. Momah has been OK blocking — he’s definitely missed a couple during 11-on-11, but he will be a receiver-first tight end, and he does that well — while Keim also is happy with Darren Fells and is excited about Jermaine Gresham. Now, if Troy Niklas can get back and going …

— Keim, like Bruce Arians, wouldn’t put a timeline on Michael Floyd’s return, but he noted how focused Floyd was before he got hurt and reiterated what a big season this is for Floyd and his future in Arizona.

— The defensive line is deep and talented. Rookie Rodney Gunter is flashing what the Cards had hoped, and there is a belief Gunter can work at nose tackle as well as defensive end. Keim also said Corey Peters is having a good camp.

 

— Keim believes guard Jonathan Cooper has lost the “hitch” he developed after breaking his leg and looks like he did when he was trending up in his rookie training camp. He also praised the camp of inside linebacker Kevin Minter and outside linebacker Alex Okafor.

 


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The benefit of the camp walkthroughs

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2015 – 10:09 am

Bruce Arians has never made it much secret — crystallized with his “Camp Cupcake” line — that he would prefer to have a couple of practices a day, instead of the one lengthy one and a walkthrough in the morning, as mandated by the CBA. But there is one big benefit of the walkthrough. Injured players can take part.

Arians pointed out that he wasn’t that concerned with the time missed by veteran linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, because Weatherspoon is able to go through all the plays on defense every day. The same goes for running backs Andre Ellington and David Johnson, who can learn the playbook even though they aren’t stressing their problem hamstrings. The walkthroughs are a big reason the Cards had no problem activating tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas from their respective lists even though they aren’t quite ready to participate much in practice. On the list, no walkthrough. Activated from the list and those guys can do just as intended — walk through the plays.

Ellington, for instance, is still the first-string running back on some plays in walkthrough. It’s not perfect. Guys still have to play football to get better at football — Arians pointed out he still needs to see Johnson in pads, for instance — but knowing that injured players aren’t completely shut out is important to Arians and his coaches.

GreshBlogUSE


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RB injuries, yes, but at least Peterson is healthy

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2015 – 12:52 pm

Both David Johnson and Andre Ellington aren’t practicing today because of hamstring issues. Bruce Arians doesn’t think Johnson’s problem is serious, and Ellington was pulled from Sunday’s work because his hamstring got a little tight and he will be kept from today’s practice as a precaution. Not ideal — especially for Johnson — but it’s early. At least cornerback Patrick Peterson said today his diabetes is under control to the point where he considers himself “diabetes free.” That’s great news.

The Cardinals also activated tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas from the Physically Unable to Perform and non-football injury lists, respectively. Neither will jump right into practice, Arians said, but taking them off the list means they can at least participate in walkthroughs and hopefully soon at least some individual drills.

The news on rookie linebacker Shaq Riddick was not as good. Arians said he’ll miss some time after suffering a Grade 2 hamstring injury. It’s the same hamstring tear that has kept him out virtually the entire time he was drafted. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (hamstring) remains day-to-day.


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