What’s frightening – at least to someone that hasn’t been on vacation yet – is that the first practice of 2017 training camp is exactly one month away. This is where I’d like time to slow down a bit. But this is also the time, before I take a step away for a bit and with the Cardinals a couple weeks already gone after wrapping minicamp, that I take a too-early shot at what the starting lineups will be Sept. 10 in Detroit.
Today, we’ll do defense. Tomorrow, the offense (right here). Most of these are pretty obvious. There are no real titanic battles on the camp docket. These can change if Steve Keim chooses to bring in a vet, but right now, nothing is imminent.
DT – Josh Mauro. Quietly, Mauro a) started almost all last season and b) has become one of the favorites of this coaching staff. No gaudy stats, but DL coach Brentson Buckner said Mauro is always effective when he’s on the field.
NT – Corey Peters. Speaking of quietly, Peters too played well in 2016. Came back strong off his Achilles injury. Proving to be a solid 2015 free-agent signing, even if he missed a year.
DT – Frostee Rucker. Always a chance Robert Nkemdiche could slip in, but I’m guessing Rucker – now healthy when he wasn’t in 2016 – takes hold of this spot, at least in the beginning. There will be plenty of rotating across the defensive line at all three spots.
OLB – Chandler Jones. No more uncertainly. Jones has his long-term contract, and so you pencil him in.
ILB – Haason Reddick. This is supposed to be Deone Bucannon’s spot, and there is still a chance he’s ready by the opener. I’m going to guess it’ll take Buc a little longer than that to be ready, and so I think the rookie will be the anti-Nkemdiche/Humphries and be in the lineup from jump.
ILB – Karlos Dansby. Dansby is supposed to be a bridge guy to the Bucannon/Reddick ILB lineup. But he still sees himself as “legendary,” and to the benefit of the Cards, he’ll work as hard as he can to stay in the lineup.
OLB – Markus Golden. Had a breakout second season, leading the team in sacks. Will be an interesting year too, since he (like David Johnson) will be eligible for a contract extension after the season, with 2018 his final year under contract.
CB – Patrick Peterson. A star, and he’s earned that title. Sometimes he gives up something, but that happens when you cover the other team’s best every week. Most of the time, Peterson makes the play.
CB – Justin Bethel. One of the biggest questions. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if Bethel is not the starter against the Lions. If Keim were to sign a veteran on defense, this is the spot I would bet it’d be for. All that said, Bethel looked better than Brandon Williams in the offseason, he is healthy, and if the roster stays as is, Bethel makes the most sense in this role.
FS – Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals need full-on Honey Badger. That is all.
SS – Antoine Bethea. There are options at the other safety spot. I don’t see Budda Baker in this role, not yet. Tyvon Branch remains an option. But there is a reason the Cardinals signed Bethea, and I think they will want his experience and leadership on the field.
Tags: Antoine Bethea, Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, Frostee Rucker, Haason Reddick, Josh Mauro, Justin Bethel, Karlos Dansby, Markus Golden, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Cardinals GM Steve Keim didn’t go to bed after the team landed around 4:30 a.m. from Philadelphia after their win Sunday night. And when he made his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 a little more than three hours later, there was no definitive answer yet on the status of safety Tyrann Mathieu and his right knee injury. (Mathieu hurt his left knee in 2013.)
Keim said Mathieu was undergoing an MRI Monday morning to determine the extent of the problem.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Keim said. “He’s such a valuable piece to this defense, this organization.”
UPDATE: Bruce Arians announced Monday Mathieu’s season is over after he tore his ACL.
Some other Keim thoughts:
— On the NFC West title, with a chance to clinch a first-round bye by beating the Packers in a week, I “just like the fact we control our own destiny.”
“It was nice to see a complete football game from our club” against the Eagles, Keim added.
— He said he was happy with the play of the offensive line. Keim thought it was one of the best games for right tackle Bobby Massie, he liked the aggressiveness of guard Mike Iupati, and he thought A.Q. Shipley played well in place of injured center Lyle Sendlein.
— As for the injured finger of QB Carson Palmer and the knee of RB David Johnson, Keim said both should be fine.
— Keim praised the play of newcomer D.J. Swearinger at safety. He also liked the games of ILB Deone Bucannon and DT Josh Mauro
“That’s what makes a team, when you have different guys step up each week,” he said.
— His biggest concern going forward? There was a mention of consistent pass rush, but the main thing comes as no surprise with the Mathieu situation hanging over the team’s collective head. “The ability to stay healthy through the process,” Keim said.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Bobby Massie, Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Deone Bucannon, Josh Mauro, Mike Iupati, Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
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With the season halfway over and talk here and there about possible contract extensions, it felt like a good time to note who is scheduled to have their contract run out after the season ends. We’ve talked for a while about the secondary decisions that are coming, but in terms of players that are making an impact, it’s a lengthy list. This is only the players set to be free agents; There have been some of you wondering if, for instance, Tyrann Mathieu could get an extension. He is under contract through 2016, so I don’t expect anything soon. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.
CB Justin Bethel
LB Dwight Freeney
TE Jermaine Gresham
RB Chris Johnson
S Rashad Johnson
G Ted Larsen
LS Mike Leach
T Bobby Massie
CB Jerraud Powers
C Lyle Sendlein
T Bradley Sowell
QB Drew Stanton
LB Sean Weatherspoon
LB LaMarr Woodley
WR Jaron Brown
P Drew Butler
LB Kenny Demens
S Tony Jefferson
(Tight ends Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are all exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can be tendered and not go anywhere.)
Again, a long list. The restricted free agents, if you want to prevent them from hitting the market unfettered, can be tendered with one of three designations: A first-round tender (a one-year contract of about $3.3M), a second-round tender (about $2.3M) or the original draft spot ($1.5M). That means, if tendered, if another team signs them away, that team owes the Cardinals the tendered pick. Given that all those guys were undrafted, the Cards would get nothing for the low tender. It makes for hard decisions on a Tony Jefferson, and even to Jaron Brown.
As for the unrestricted guys …
It seems likely that the older one-year guys — Chris Johnson, Gresham, Freeney — would want to see what they might get on the open market. The secondary is the most intriguing area. It wouldn’t be a surprise that some team might want to swoop in and Greg Toler-contract a guy like Bethel, especially if they’d want him to start right away at CB. The Cardinals like Powers. They like Rashad Johnson too, but with all the safeties around, what will be the offer? What does the future hold (or rather, where is the future) for Deone Bucannon? Is he a linebacker or safety? That’ll come into play.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Chris Johnson, Darren Fells, Drew Butler, Drew Stanton, Dwight Freeney, free agency, Ifeanyi Momah, Jaron Brown, Jermaine Gresham, Jerraud Powers, Josh Mauro, Justin Bethel, Kenny Demens, LaMarr Woodley, Lyle Sendlein, Mike Leach, Rashad Johnson, Sean Weatherspoon, Ted Larsen, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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It’s a special two-headed blog post, combining a “Friday before” with an “aftermath.” We’ll see if I can get out alive. Seriously, camp is over, and thank goodness for that. I know I have tired of hotel life. Even if we are just a short drive from home, home seems so far away in the middle of the month.
What is there to say about camp? The Cards had their injuries, although beyond losing starting nose tackle Corey Peters to his Achilles tear — which is a big deal, but not crippling given the defensive line depth — the Cards came out OK. We’ll see where Michael Floyd and Mike Iupati and Sean Weatherspoon are in a week as the Cards prep for the Saints on opening day.
Best players in camp? Hard to go anywhere but Carson Palmer. Tyrann Mathieu was very good. I thought Patrick Peterson played well. There has been a lot of praise doled out to inside linebacker Kevin Minter, which is a huge deal given Weatherspoon’s absence. Of course, with still two preseason games to go, there is still some time before the roster is shaped. The Cards — at 88 on the roster right now — have to be down to 75 by Tuesday at the latest (although I expect those cuts sooner) and then to 53 a week from Saturday. All for a season where much is expected of the team.
“For us to reach where we want to go, we can’t be potential,” Bruce Arians said. “We have to be damn good.”
— I have a hunch running back Chris Johnson plays in Oakland. He practiced Friday, but he didn’t do a lot beyond individual drills, mostly running off by himself to keep loose. But Arians said he wants to be on the field, and while Johnson said he wasn’t sure if he’ll be ready, I just have a gut feeling he’ll get a little time. If not, it’ll be the Denver game.
— Let’s hope the MRI needed for rookie Xavier Williams on his left elbow isn’t a big deal. He got hurt at the end of practice Friday.
— Arians started calling CB Jerraud Powers “Milkman” because he wanted to needle Powers for needing so many days off with his hamstring injury. (Powers was milking the injury — get it?) Then Powers came back to practice Friday and made a couple of interceptions. “The Milkman delivered today.”
— The players aren’t the only ones who likes finally breaking camp to be able to sleep in their own bed. Arians does too.
“My liver likes a break too,” Arians deadpanned.
— Earl Watford will get second-team work at right tackle in Oakland Sunday. How much backup quarterback Drew Stanton will play will depend on how much Carson Palmer ultimately plays. In this game, Phillip Sims will get in the game first as third QB with Logan Thomas finishing up.
— Arians likes the depth that’s been created with the young inside linebackers, but I’d think the spotlight will still be bright on those guys Sunday (although it’ll be brighter in the preseason finale.) I’m interested to see how D.J. Humphries looks at left tackle, how DT Rodney Gunter looks in extended time and whether the Cardinals can put together a couple of sacks with their first-unit defense. Josh Mauro was getting a lot of work as an edge guy in first-unit sub-packages this week.
In a week, the preseason will be over, and it’ll be time to talk regular season. Finally.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chris Johnson, D.J. Humphries, Drew Stanton, Earl Watford, Jerraud Powers, Josh Mauro, Logan Thomas, Phillip Sims, Raiders, Rodney Gunter, training camp, Xavier Williams
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Let’s be real — Bruce Arians would have liked to get a preseason win Saturday night, but he couldn’t have wanted extra football in the form of overtime. Injuries happen that late with tired bodies, and there is no upside of a fifth quarter this time of year. It shouldn’t have come to that anyway, of course, if Marion Grice doesn’t drop a wide open pass on the Cardinals’ previous drive, or if Phillip Sims doesn’t overthrow 6-foot-7 tight end Ifeanyi Momah soon after. Or if Logan Thomas and Momah don’t get crossed up on a pass where Momah was wide open in the third quarter, failing to connect on a pass that seemed like it could have been a touchdown.
In the preseason, these things get forgotten, however. In the regular season, Thomas or Sims would (hopefully) never throw a pass. So, with a nod to the football gods for letting us get out of this one in regulation time, my thoughts:
— Carson Palmer said he wanted to take a couple of hits. Not sure he wanted to be buried on two sacks and get whacked another time. But he didn’t break and that pass to J.J. Nelson was a thing of beauty. So was that touchdown dart to John Brown.
— If David Johnson really can perform like that in the backfield, and Andre Ellington — who had a very nice 11-yard run himself — stays healthy, the Cardinals are going to be fine running the ball.
— Chris Johnson out a week or two with a hamstring pull. He might not get any preseason carries now. You wonder where it might put him after David Johnson’s performance.
— It’s always good to be a young player on the bubble to be named by name by the head coach as playing well. So linebacker Alani Fua, cornerback Cariel Brooks and defensive end Josh Mauro, that’s a good thing.
— Arians also praised Sims, as he should. Sims did miss Momah late, but Sims looked incredibly cool in the pocket and patient. Arians said there is no leader at third quarterback between Sims and Logan Thomas, but Sims is making his push.
— After all the Rodney Gunter talk, it was Matt Shaughnessy out there in the starting lineup with Frostee Rucker and Calais Campbell. Gunter did play with the starting unit, however.
— The Cardinals are off tomorrow, and practice Monday before taking Tuesday off. They play next Sunday in Oakland.
— Arians screamed at the officials much of the game but at no time was it more noticed that late when he (and Patrick Peterson) kept yelling for some flag on Chargers’ defensive backs guarding Jaxon Shipley. That Cardinals cornerback C.J. Roberts was flagged for holding on what turned out to be the game’s deciding play on a pass that wouldn’t have been completed stuck in Arians’ craw too.
“Don’t ask me about officials. Please,” Arians said, after he was asked about the officials. “That’s why I’m hoarse. We need to relearn the rules they changed two years ago. This crew might need eight preseason games to get ready.”
That’s a good way to end it. G’night all.
Tags: Alani Fua, Bruce Arians, C.J. Roberts, Cariel Brooks, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Ifeanyi Momah, J.J. Nelson, Jaxon Shipley, John Brown, Josh Mauro, Logan Thomas, Marion Grice, Matt Shaughnessy, Phillip Sims
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GM Steve Keim said he as a tendency to be a pessimist, and in some ways, his job is inherently so as the man in charge of trying to upgrade the team — even when they are 9-2. Sometimes, Keim said during his weekly appearance on “Doug and Wolf” on Arizona Sports 98.7, he said he can think “the sky is falling.”
The sky isn’t falling after a lone loss following six straight wins, of course, but now it’s about curtailing that losing streak. To make sure it’s not a streak. Ron Wolfley made a cogent point following the interview too, noting that a GM and a coach probably see the video through a different prism given their jobs. But Keim and Bruce Arians could certainly agree on one main point after Sunday’s Seattle loss: “In a hostile environment, you have to match their level of intensity in all three phases,” Keim said. “We certainly didn’t do that in two.” Offense and special teams didn’t do nearly enough.
— Keim said he thought the offensive line needs to be more physical. Other that acknowledging a comment that right tackle Bobby Massie didn’t have his best game, Keim wasn’t specific on the offensive line but instead talking about them as a group. The entire offense has to play “in better unison” in the run game. The protection could have been better too.
— It was hard to evaluate QB Drew Stanton because the run game gave him no help, Keim said, but it wasn’t Stanton’s best game, noting Stanton’s inaccuracy at times.
— There was a miscommunication between cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Rashad Johnson on the early 48-yard pass to Ricardo Lockette, Keim said.
— Keim said he thought new defensive end Josh Mauro stood out (so did I). The rookie out of Stanford has long been on the Cardinals’ radar. Keim said the Cardinals tried to sign Mauro as an undrafted rookie back in May, but he decided to go to the Steelers. When the Steelers cut him at the end of the preseason, the Cards again tried to sign Mauro to their practice squad, but Mauro chose to stay with Pittsburgh’s practice squad. Finally, the Cards decided to sign Mauro off the Steelers’ PS to the active roster.
— Here’s why the sky isn’t really falling for Keim: “The thing that gives me confidence is men in that locker room and that coaching staff.”
Tags: Drew Stanton, Josh Mauro, offensive line, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Seahawks, Steve Keim
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Drew Stanton said after Sunday’s game the Cardinals knew it would be difficult. I’m not sure it was supposed to be quite that difficult. The game played out as an ugly, smash-em-up affair, and that was OK. The Cards can do that. But the Cards can’t make mistakes while doing that, because those are the things that swing a close game. Whether it was the dropped TD pass or the punt block or just the inability of the offense to do anything of real substance save for the end-of-the-half drive (that closed with the TD drop), the Cardinals didn’t do the basic things. The Seahawks did.
Russell Wilson was special in the second half, escaping a few times when he really didn’t have the right to escape. But the Seahawks won because they patiently waited for the Cards to hand over field position, and simply kicked field goals when they did.
It has not been a particularly good offensive stretch to be sure. No touchdowns over the last seven quarters is not going to win any games, much less divisions or championships. These are the defenses you figure to see in the playoffs, too. It makes the game against the Falcons critical next week, especially for that side of the ball. Bruce Arians has to find something that works. Quickly.
— The Cards handled Marshawn Lynch. They couldn’t handle Wilson. In the second half especially, he made some magical plays. In an offense that really doesn’t have the right to be very effective, Wilson made it enough so on Sunday.
— Not having Larry Fitzgerald didn’t help. He couldn’t run, and the question is, how soon will he be able to run? Is another week off going to be enough? It might not be.
— More importantly, you’d think Michael Floyd would step to the forefront with Fitz down, but he was only targeted a couple of times and his one catch was negated by a penalty.
— Stanton hurt his left ankle late in the game, but he said was fine. He walked off the field without any issue and said he would’ve come back in the game. “It’s not anything major,” Stanton said.
— The Cardinals had eight sacks in the first eight games. After seven Sunday – including a career-best three from defensive end Calais Campbell – the Cards have 17 in their last three games. That thing when coaches are always saying sacks come in bunches? Yeah, that.
— It wasn’t the best special teams day for the Cardinals, but their field-goal block unit got another one thanks to Tommy Kelly (his second of the season) and Justin Bethel was irritated he didn’t get a piece of the first two Seattle field goals when he thought he had near misses.
— Arians gave Jaron Brown a pat on the back after his TD drop. Realistically, Arians said, the Cardinals at halftime were “where we’re at every week, within a score, up a score or down a score. We were right were we wanted to be.”
Then came the punt block, and the Cardinals never could get things right.
— The 204 yards of offense was the lowest total of the Arians era and the lowest amount of yards in a game since the Cards had 196 in a Ryan Lindley-started 38-10 win over the Lions Dec. 16, 2012.
— Newcomer Josh Mauro added some things on the defensive line at end, I thought. And further pushed the inactive-again Alameda Ta’amu down the depth chart.
— It was the best game of linebacker Kevin Minter’s year-plus: Five tackles, a first NFL sack, two tackles for loss.
— It’s about perspective. As someone mentioned on plane home, if someone would have said before the season the Cardinals were going to be 9-2 after the Seattle trip, no one would have turned it down. The Cards need to get it back quickly, though. Atlanta awaits.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Drew Stanton, Jaron Brown, Josh Mauro, Justin Bethel, Kevin Minter, Larry Fitzgerald, Marshawn Lynch, Michael Floyd, Seahawks
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