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No rush for “mindful” Tyrann Mathieu

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2016 – 8:38 am

All along, Tyrann Mathieu has preached patience.

The safety has been encouraged with his progress coming back from his ACL tear, and still hopes to be on the field when the Cardinals play the Patriots Sept. 11. But as good as Mathieu has done in practice, he is clearly cautious.

“I wouldn’t say I’m ready to play a full game,” Mathieu said. “I still feel like I have a ways to go.”

Mathieu recently estimated himself around 80 percent, and this summer, talked about how he wanted to be 100 percent before playing, with a nod to how much he struggled at the outset of the 2014 season when he was coming off another (albeit much worse) ACL tear. Coach Bruce Arians said there is still a chance for the PUP guys — Mathieu, cornerback Justin Bethel and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker — could play in Houston Sunday. As for Mathieu in particular, he is “not necessarily cutting it loose” in practice, Arians said. “I’d like to see him in game action, but that doesn’t mean I have to see him.”

Listening to Mathieu, an appearance now seems doubtful. Realistically, this would be the one opportunity — it’s hard to imagine someone at the top of the roster playing in the fourth preseason game, much less someone coming off a significant injury.

“Your passion tends to override being mindful of where you are at in your recovery,” Mathieu said. “As long as I stay mindful of that, as long as people around me stay mindful of that, I think I’ll be all right.”

UPDATE: Mathieu did not practice Friday, but Arians said he expected the three PUP players to play “10, maximum 12 plays.”

MathieuPlayBlog

 


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Smokey Brown back, Okafor will play

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2016 – 1:50 pm

Bruce Arians just spoke to the media prior to Sunday’s practice, with a lot of good injury news coming out of it (all of which will extrapolated upon later on azcardinals.com.):

— LB Alex Okafor has decided to try and play with his torn biceps muscle. Arians said it will be a matter of pain tolerance more than functional strength.

— WR John “Smokey” Brown has been cleared from concussion protocol and will return to the practice field. Needs to get in shape, but he’s finally back.

— DT Robert Nkemdiche is “close” to coming back from his bad ankle. Arians said he hopes he’s out there Wednesday. The Cards practice today and Monday and are off Tuesday.

— The PUP guys — S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Justin Bethel and DT Frostee Rucker — are back doing individual drills today and are in uniform for the first time.

— G Mike Iupati (knee) is not practicing.


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Williams’ crash course continues in San Diego

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2016 – 10:47 am

The No. 2 cornerback for the Cardinals remains a work in progress.

Justin Bethel came off the PUP list this week but still isn’t ready to practice. Mike Jenkins finally returned to practice this week, although the surgery for a broken bone in his hand means he has to wear a cast. Meanwhile, rookie Brandon Williams remains the starter and still figures to be the best bet to be starting Sept. 11 even with his growing pains.

That’s why Williams should’ve benefited big from a couple of practices against the Chargers, to work against different receivers than just the Cardinals and to see different looks. Williams got a healthy dose of Amari Cooper last week and now Keenan Allen — who has been a tough cover in practice — was this week.

“(Brandon) is a guy who were are going to lean on in the season so we want to see how he was living, how he was going to respond when the ball is coming his way,” all-pro cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Not to toot my own horn, but after the year I had last year, if there is a rookie defensive back, nine times out of 10 they’re going to pick on the young pup. So (cornerbacks) coach (Kevin) Ross wanted to throw him into the fire and to see how he would respond.”

Peterson is right, of course. Whomever is playing across from Peterson will be targeted often. Look at what happened to Bethel late last season. That’s not going to change in 2016, whether it is Williams or Bethel or someone else.

“I can only imagine how tough it is getting 13, 14 targets a game,” Peterson said. “That’s tough for anyone. biggest thing is keeping the confidence up and relying on the technique. You are prepared for the moment, it’s just about taking what you learned on the practice field to the game. That’s the biggest thing for young cornerbacks.”

BrandonWilliamsBlogUSE


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No more PUP but still no Smoke, Nkemdiche

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2016 – 12:30 pm

The Cardinals are prepping for their night practice against the Chargers tonight and Bruce Arians delivered a bunch of injury updates, not the least of which the fact there are no more players on the physically unable to perform list. S Tyrann Mathieu, DT Frostee Rucker and CB Justin Bethel have all been put on the active roster, and while they will not practice yet — Arians said, as he did before, that they will only take part in walkthroughs and get mental reps — it’s a start.

Arians wouldn’t even say if all or some will be available Week 1 against the Patriots, although he did say Mathieu was “close.” They have to get to individual work before they even graduate to team practice.

— WR John “Smokey” Brown still has yet to be cleared after his concussion. At this point, Arians acknowledges it is a concern. The Cardinals will be smart about it, and Arians said Brown will likely sit out a couple extra days after he’s cleared just to be safe. Besides, Arians said, Brown will have to work his way back into shape anyway since he has been out so long.

— The hope is that rookie DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle) will return to practice next week, Arians said.


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The first depth chart, 2016

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2016 – 11:19 am

The Cardinals’ first game is Friday night against the Raiders, so that means the first depth chart of the season was put out today. As always, it’s a preseason depth chart, and there is a ton of wiggle room in what it says and what happens once the games start and who plays on the field.

“It’s (in) invisible ink,” coach Bruce Arians said, laughing. “It ain’t even in pencil.”

That said, it’s always interesting to take a look at where the players are at this point.

— On offense, there is nothing really wacky. The starters, given what Bruce Arians has said about both A.Q. Shipley and D.J. Humphries, are as expected. Perhaps the only notable thing is that, as of now, tryout rookie Chris Hubert — who has flashed multiple times in practice — is ahead of veteran Brittan Golden at one of the wideout positions (behind Fitz and Jaron Brown.)

— On defense, even though Ed Stinson has been with the first-unit much of the offseason and camp, it is Rodney Gunter listed as a starter with Calais Campbell, and the now-injured Corey Peters as the starting nose tackle. Given the depth at the defensive line, the rotation will show starting means little since so many guys will be moved in and out.

— Brandon Williams, the rookie, is the starter at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. That’s not a surprise since Justin Bethel has been hurt for so long. Bethel hasn’t been on the field to play since the NFC Championship, although he should be close to a return.

— At safety, something to watch. The starters are the injured Tyrann Mathieu, and he is backed up by Tony Jefferson. The strong safety starter right now is listed as D.J. Swearinger, ahead of Tyvon Branch. Before the offseason, you would’ve thought Branch or Jefferson would be penciled in there, but it is Swearinger right now. As much as the Cards have had to figure out their cornerback situation, their safety spot — especially with rookie Marqui Christian making strides — is pretty strong. There might have to be a tough choice made there too, especially once Mathieu is considered healthy.

Here’s the whole chart:

DepthChart2016


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Broken hand for Jenkins and B.A. update

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2016 – 12:49 pm

The injury bug didn’t take long to find the Cardinals in camp. Veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins, signed in part because Justin Bethel was going to miss time with a linger foot injury and who is on the PUP list, broke a bone in his hand Friday and is out indefinitely for now.

Arians also revealed that the ankle sprain of rookie defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche is of the high variety, meaning Nkemdiche will be out at least a couple of weeks.

— DT Red Bryant (Achilles soreness) and TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring tightness) also aren’t expected to practice today.

— Arians said cornerback Brandon Williams “had a hell of a day” in his first practice. “He got beat by Smoke (Brown for a TD) but he was there, just turned the wrong way and got off balance. But he broke up some good balls. Nice thing was after the touchdown he came back and competed his ass off. Some guys would go in the tank.”

— Quarterback Matt Barkley has made steady improvement, Arians said, but there are things like seeing hots and sights that aren’t good enough. “As much as he’s grown, he’s still not making the progress I’d like to see him make,” Arians said. (An aside: It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Cards carry two QBs on the active roster either.)

— At one point in the first practice, QB Carson Palmer got partially rolled from behind by offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Arians admitted he held his breath after that play, and a couple others. “There was a lot of ‘phew’ yesterday,” Arians said.


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Williams, Boehm and rookie impact

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2016 – 9:23 am

We’re only one practice into training camp, nowhere close to being able to know what rookie will walk in and help a team. But already, it feels like things are shifting with a few draftees. Robert Nkemdiche is the first, a guy who is sitting for now with a bum ankle. You figure the defensive lineman will be back sooner rather than later, and frankly, even if he missed a week or two, it probably wouldn’t make a big difference once we got to the regular season.

But you look at the next two picks: CB Brandon Williams and C Evan Boehm. When the picks were made, given the Cardinals’ circumstances at both spots (which both had and have uncertainty), the safe guess would have been that Williams would come along slow and Boehm would have the best chance to start.

Instead, early in camp, the situations have reversed. With Justin Bethel sidelined, Williams is running with the first team, and actually looked pretty good in his first practice, continuing the arc he finished up in the offseason work. Boehm, meanwhile, is behind A.Q. Shipley now, as coach Bruce Arians has repeatedly noted the steep learning curve Boehm must climb before he is ready to play.

There’s a long way to go. The two could switch again before the season. Bethel could come back and fight off the Williams challenge for that starting job. But for now it’s an interesting twist from where we were in May.

Boehm

 


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Culliver could give Cards another CB

Posted by Darren Urban on July 20, 2016 – 7:56 am

On the heels of Mike Jenkins signing, Cardinals GM Steve Keim confirmed Tuesday night that the Cards will also bring in free agent veteran cornerback Chris Culliver in for a visit next week.

“He’s a guy that’s had some success in the NFL and is coming off the ACL, so we’ll see where it goes,” Keim said.

The caveat is that Culliver is coming off an ACL and MCL tear in November, suffering the injury in a practice while playing for Washington. He was released this offseason a year into a four-year contract, although Washington GM Scot McCloughan told the Washington Post Culliver is on schedule in his rehab and should play this season. Culliver, a one-time 49ers, turns 28 in August, although knee injuries have been a constant issue with him over the years. He also tore his ACL in 2012, missing that entire season. Culliver played in only six games last season, but had four interceptions for the 49ers in 2014.

The Cardinals have to figure out (besides how much money he might want) where Culliver’s health is and how it fits into the secondary. Already, Tyrann Mathieu is coming off an ACL and his availability for the opener is still uncertain. Can the Cards afford another player like that? Does he become someone with which Jenkins battles for a spot or could the Cards sign and keep both with younger cornerbacks moved to the side?

One thing Keim made clear: There are expectations for Justin Bethel to start. “The more Justin plays the better he’ll get,” Keim said.

Chris Culliver


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Jenkins is Keim’s CB camp signing

Posted by Darren Urban on July 19, 2016 – 9:16 am

So, with training camp starting in a little more than a week, the Cardinals have signed a veteran cornerback. (With Steve Keim, did you expect anything else?) Mike Jenkins, with whom the Cardinals flirted before as a free agent back in 2014, is the one now in the defensive back mix.

You knew they would get a vet. Early in offseason there were talks with Bengals vet Leon Hall (who is still unsigned) and Jerraud Powers (who eventually signed with Baltimore). Jenkins has spent the last two years in Tampa, where he signed after nothing materialized with the Cards two years ago. At the time, the Cardinals instead signed Antonio Cromartie (who made the Pro Bowl.)

Jenkins joins a crowded secondary. There is no set starter across from Patrick Peterson. Justin Bethel has a slight edge, and Jenkins — who has started just five games the past two years in his 15 appearances — has a chance to get in the lineup. But he isn’t a lock to win a spot necessarily, either. Third-round pick Brandon Williams will join Peterson and Bethel on the roster. Draft pick Harlan Miller has a chance. Former undrafted corner Cariel Brooks has a chance. There are also a couple of guys who have been around — Asa Jackson and Shaun Prater — who have had an offseason to show themselves.

(Adam Schefter is reporting the Cardinals are scheduled to bring in vet CB Chris Culliver for a visit too. Keim confirmed the visit.)

However it plays out, Keim has made sure there is that veteran security blanket heading into camp. Maybe the Cardinals already in place will show it was unnecessary. But usually, that vet who signs now not only ends up necessary but an integral part of the upcoming season.

Corey Brown, Mike Jenkins


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2016 – 1:35 pm

The players have been gone for a couple of weeks. The coaches are on vacation. Now is the time for them to not think about football, since football will dominate lives when the end of July arrives.

In the meantime, it is the perfect time to speculate and predict.

As I have done for a number of years, here are my picks, in late June, of who will be the starters for the Cardinals when they begin the regular season Sept. 11 against the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.” They are the best guesses for a team that has yet to take part in training camp, yet to absorb any of the inevitable camp injuries, yet to sign anyone late as a Steve Keim blue light special.

While the Cardinals often are in some sort of sub-package, for this post we are going with the base defense. I’ll post my thoughts on the offense tomorrow (and here they are):

DT – Calais Campbell. Going into the last year of his contract, Campbell’s future with the Cardinals is fuzzy. But the Pro Bowler has played well, and the addition of Chandler Jones figures to make him better, and in a year where the Cards are going to push for a Super Bowl, he’ll be a key piece.

NT – Corey Peters. The Cards like Rodney Gunter, who was solid as a rookie. But Peters was impressing coaches before his Achilles injury last season, and I expect him to make a similar push to get back into the starting lineup by the time the season starts. Other than Campbell, the defensive line starter positions are a) up for grabs and b) part of a rotation, anyway. One caveat: This is assuming Peters is indeed all the way healthy, but coach Bruce Arians said Peters would be ready to go come camp.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Rucker missed offseason work with a foot injury, and he may not be ready right when camp opens. But assuming he doesn’t miss too much time, he figures to find his way into the lineup again. He’s been solid the last couple of seasons, and while there is youth available (Gunter, Nkemdiche, Stinson) Rucker still leads the way.

OLB – Chandler Jones. He was penciled into the lineup the day he arrived in a trade. He’ll be a three-down player.

ILB – Deone Bucannon. Last year at this time I picked Bucannon to be the starting strong safety. It was, after all, where he spent the entire 2015 offseason working. Then, when camp began, Buc was back at dollar linebacker. The Cards don’t even pretend he is anything but anymore.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He got his chance to show he could be a starter last year, and he made it work. He’ll be back in place again as he goes into the last year of his contract.

OLB – Markus Golden. When it comes to outside linebackers, Jones is the star, Alex Okafor is the former starter on the comeback trail after his dicey exit to 2015, and Dwight Freeney is the still-available free agent. Meanwhile, Golden, who was solid as a rookie, will slide into the starting spot opposite Jones. He’ll have the chance to be a nice bookend.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Yes, 2014 was mostly forgettable. Peterson couldn’t have made 2015 more memorable. That was the stud cornerback he could be, and the one the Cards are counting on going forward.

CB – Justin Bethel. There is competition, not from someone unsigned, but from the rookies. If Bethel is going to grab this job, he has to hold off raw rookie Brandon Williams. He should be able to do that.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, I think Mathieu finds a way to be ready by “Sunday Night Football” to open the season. If not, Tyvon Branch – who will get a lot of playing time anyway – is around. The Cards need a healthy and productive Mathieu.

SS – Tony Jefferson. Branch will be in the mix too, and D.J. Swearinger will make a push, but in the end I think Jefferson finds his way on to the field first, as the Cards once again mix-and-match often their secondary. (Would I be surprised if Branch starts? Not at all.)

DefenseWorth


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