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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It’s the dead time between the end of minicamp and training camp, and again, there is the question: Who will be the cornerback starting across from Patrick Peterson? As it stands, Justin Bethel is the leader in the clubhouse, although he was that at this time last year (despite a foot injury) and he never started a game. As we talked about in the latest Cardinals Underground podcast, Bethel has looked better than he had. Health helps. But until the pads come on and the games count, it’s impossible to know for sure.
But it got me to thinking about the position since Patrick Peterson arrived. Peterson, the fifth overall pick in 2011, had a learning curve himself when he was drafted. He wasn’t a great cornerback as a rookie, but he was solid. And he started all 16 games. His cohort opposite? It has not been the same player two years in a row, and that’s a trend that will continue this season regardless of whether it is Bethel or a veteran who might sign before camp or whoever.
2011 — Richard Marshall 9 starts/A.J. Jefferson 7 starts: Jefferson actually was the starter coming out of camp, but he faded quickly and was replaced by the veteran Marshall. Marshall was OK. He was probably better known as one of the better punt return blockers that got Peterson loose for his spectacular rookie year as a return man.
2012 — William Gay 15/Greg Toler 1: Gay signed as a free agent but was up and down. He immediately went back to Pittsburgh, where he was better suited and still starts. Then again, 2012 wasn’t good for any of the Cardinals. Remember 4-0 that year?
2013 — Jerraud Powers 16: One of the first free agents signed after Steve Keim and Bruce Arians took over. Powers was steady, although he was probably better suited in the slot. The Cardinals had Tyrann Mathieu plans there, so Powers dutifully worked the outside, and he was fine.
2014 — Antonio Cromartie 16: Cro was the ultimate Keim blue light special. Came in, was mostly good (although there were a few high-profile hiccups, especially later in the season when the team struggled) and made the Pro Bowl. But he wasn’t going to re-sign for cheap again, the Jets made him a big offer, and Cromartie started showing his age in New York.
2015 — Powers 13/Justin Bethel 3: Powers was disappointed but a team player when the Cards upgraded to Cromartie, and stepped back in the breech as the only two-time Peterson companion (Bethel’s starts came during Powers’ injuries.) Again, he was solid for a team that made the NFC Championship. But the Cardinals wanted to upgrade, there was belief Bethel could take a step forward, and Powers was allowed to leave in free agency when the sides couldn’t match up on the money it would take to keep him around.
2016 — Marcus Cooper 13/Brandon Williams 3: We know the story by now. Bethel was the pick, but was hurt. Mike Jenkins was the likely starter before blowing out his knee in preseason. The veteran Cooper was the late trade before the season, and got the spot after the rookie Williams showed he was clearly not ready after being the early choice. Cooper left as a free agent, getting a surprisingly nice deal in Chicago. And here we are again.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antonio Cromartie, Brandon Williams, Greg Toler, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Marcus Cooper, Patrick Peterson, Richard Marshall, William Gay
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The Cardinals got through the draft and made their picks. No QB. No cornerback drafted early, but the defense got some potential impact playmakers. They collected 17 undrafted rookies, adding an Ironhead and a Gump and QB was served by a Knight, although we’ll see what that truly means. The Cardinals are in the middle of Phase 2 work — that goes on exclusively for another week — and then OTAs will start May 16 and the meat of the offseason work will commence.
There will be moves here and there. There will be tryout players at the rookie minicamp next week and a couple will inevitably be signed, at the cost of a couple of other players on the roster. That’s happened every year in the Bruce Arians era. There will have to be a decision made about what to do with Daryl Washington (no, that has not yet happened.) And then there is the idea of a Keim Time Sign, a pickup of a veteran by GM Steve Keim anytime between now and into training camp that could end up making the roster by the beginning of September. A quick handicapping of the positions he could look at:
— Offensive line: The Cards signed Tony Bergstrom Wednesday. He’s likely a depth guy rather than someone who figures to have a chance to start should he make the team. He’s played center of late, and with Evan Boehm working as the first-string right guard, the Cards needed someone to back up A.Q. Shipley, if not compete with him.
— Quarterback: The news was out that the Cards at least worked out Blaine Gabbert. We’ll see if that turns into anything. It’d give them an extra arm with experience, and with as much as they have talked about managing Carson Palmer’s practice load, maybe adding another QB right now makes sense.
— Running back: I don’t know if the draft closed the door on Chris Johnson, but it seems like it might have. T.J. Logan is young, fresh legs, and they like what they have seen out of Elijhaa Penny. Kerwynn Williams has shown he can run the ball, and after all, David Johnson is David Johnson.
— Cornerback: This is the big position. Justin Bethel figures to run with the first unit, at least to begin with. It’ll be hard to see where Budda Baker fits in early because the Washington spring quarter doesn’t end until early June (the final minicamp day is June 8) and he’ll miss most offseason work. The Cards have some mix-and-match possibilities, but right now, it’s Bethel or Brandon Williams in line to start opposite Patrick Peterson. Could the Cards pick up a veteran cornerback? I wouldn’t rule it out, although they may want to see how the offseason plays out a bit.
Tags: Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Williams, Budda Baker, Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Elijhaa Penny, free agency, Justin Bethel, Kerwynn Williams, T.J. Logan, Tony Bergstrom
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It’s been a battle for Justin Bethel for the last 18 months, fighting a broken foot at the end of the 2015 season, thinking it was healed, re-injuring it in the offseason before OTAs to sideline him all summer, fighting it all 2016 and then absorbing a paycut recently.
Coach Bruce Arians has been complimentary of Bethel the last few times he has been asked about him, and Bethel did close the season better — returning an interception for a touchdown in the finale — and Arians was asked Wednesday whether he regretted calling Bethel a “failure-in-progress” in early December.
“No … no, because only one line of that was used,” Arians said. “Because I said it was not his fault because of his broken foot. That part never got to the article. It was just I said he was a failure in progress because of not being able to practice.”
Arians said Bethel’s father actually attended the Saturday practice following Arians’ Monday “failure” comment.
“(He) grabbed me and said, ‘You trying to motivate my son?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ ” Arians said. “He said, ‘I think it’s working.’ ”
Arians again reiterated Wednesday that the draft is loaded with cornerbacks, that Brandon Williams will be a lot better in Year Two, and that Bethel too will be “a hell of a lot better if he can finally practice.” (Bethel believes he should be the starter.)
“He hasn’t practiced for two years on that broken foot,” Arians said. “He can now have a chance to really compete as a corner and get better rather than just throwing him out there when we had to have him. That’s not fair to him. But I think he’s going to really, really take off with it this spring.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Justin Bethel
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Brandon Carr went to the Ravens Thursday and Morris Claiborne to the Jets and the free-agent cornerback pool got a little smaller. But at this point, I’m not sure it makes a big difference to the Cardinals. Yes, with the defection of Marcus Cooper to the Bears, the Cardinals are going to have to find a new starter opposite Patrick Peterson. But it looks like that will be a slowly developing situation rather than an immediate fix.
There remain in-house candidates like Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams. Bethel did just take a paycut as he tries to rehab his cornerback stock (he did play well at the nickel late in the season and Bruce Arians noted that Bethel’s best spot was probably in the slot), while Williams struggled a lot as the raw, young cornerback that he is and he is far from a sure thing as a starter in this league.
But in a draft deep in cornerback talent, choosing one in the early rounds looks like the initial play. There are a few “name” cornerbacks still out there in free agency — Alterraun Verner, Brandon Flowers, and yes, Darrelle Revis, for example — but there is a reason they are still on the market. (No, I don’t see any chance Revis would be a pickup, regardless.)
This seems headed for the same place it was last season, where Bethel and now Williams and a draft pick will get a chance to show what they have, and a veteran will be picked up at some point to be in the mix. Remember, the Cardinals added Mike Jenkins and Alan Ball in camp last year before injuries took them out (Jenkins was your starter before he hurt his knee) and the team traded for Cooper.
Tags: Alan Ball, Alterraun Verner, Brandon Flowers, Brandon Williams, Darrelle Revis, draft, free agency, Justin Bethel, Marcus Cooper, Mike Jenkins, Patrick Peterson
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The NFLPA web site, which updates daily the amount of salary cap room each team has, listed the Cardinals at around $18.5 million yesterday and at around $21 million today. Turns out — with the new contract of Jarvis Jones not yet in the system — that cornerback Justin Bethel had his pay reduced for 2017 from $4.5 million to $2 million, (also on the NFLPA site). I would guess, given his ups and downs last season, it was not a shock. (The move, figuring in signing bonus proration, saves the Cards $1.75M on the cap.)
Bethel did get something in return, however. His contract, which was to run through the 2018 season, now ends after 2017 — meaning he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Next year was probably going to be dicey anyway, since Bethel had been scheduled to make $5 million in salary, but still, this will give him a guaranteed opportunity to reach the open market or to have some leverage for a new deal.
Bethel says he’s finally healthy from the foot injury that torpedoed his 2016 season. It’s a big year for him both on defense and to help a special teams unit (he is a multi-time special teams Pro Bowler who didn’t get there last year) that struggled.
Tags: Justin Bethel
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Really, it’s no surprise. A player is asked if he should start. He’s going to say yes. That’s what Justin Bethel did Tuesday, when asked on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show if he should start at cornerback for the Cardinals this season.
“Yes, I think so,” Bethel replied.
“That was my mindset going into this past season,” Bethel said. “Even when I did get hurt, I thought I was going to be back soon enough to get a chance to (be the starter), and obviously a couple of setbacks and that wasn’t the case.”
Bethel had a foot injury that kept him out the entirety of the offseason, and part of camp. It bothered him most of the season, although Bethel was back to feeling like himself in the last couple of games.
“At the end of the season, seeing myself being able to go out there and making plays kind of showed me, ‘OK, you’re getting back to where you need to be,’ ” Bethel said.
What will be interesting is whether he gets that chance. The Cardinals are trying to figure out what to do with that starting cornerback job opposite Patrick Peterson. The draft is deep in cornerbacks. And Bethel, even with the injuries, hasn’t been able to consistently show himself at cornerback (Bethel played there a chunk at the end of 2015 after Jerraud Powers was hurt). Coach Bruce Arians did praise Bethel at the Combine, noting he played better after “I said what I said” (the infamous “failure-in-progress” comment). Bethel, with a $4.75M salary, is paid like a No. 2 starting cornerback. He’s earned that money as a Pro Bowl special teamer too, but it’ll be an interesting story to watch — again, with such a deep CB draft class.
Tags: Justin Bethel
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That sound you heard from the direction of California Sunday night was the Cardinals exhaling. No, David Johnson hasn’t had his MRI yet, but there is optimism that the knee injury he suffered Sunday will cost him only that record of 100 yards from scrimmage in every game and nothing further. If his ligaments are intact – and Bruce Arians seemed to think they were – then he will recover in plenty of time for training camp. And at this point, that’s all that matters.
So in that regard, Sunday’s 44-6 beatdown of the Rams isn’t like the beatdown of the Eagles last season, which won a division but had an ugly hangover because of the Tyrann Mathieu ACL tear. Nobody wants any of that.
Johnson wasn’t moping or looking like disaster had struck after the game, so take that for what it’s worth.
You also take for what it’s worth the pounding of the Rams. Jared Goff is nowhere near ready to play quarterback, and certainly not behind that line he had today or with the receivers he has. Still, the Cardinals held the Rams to a crazy 2.1-yards per play today – that’s nothing – and had a sack party in the backfield.
Momentum doesn’t carry over from one season to the next. I firmly believe that (just as the NFC title loss didn’t carry over.) But confidence can. And this team has a lot of confidence going into the offseason.
Of course, there are a lot of things that need to be figured out in the offseason. But that’s to talk about for the next few months.
— The Cardinals will pick 13th overall in the draft.
— Arians confirmed earlier reports that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin is set to have three head coaching interviews in the coming days. ESPN reported those teams as the Bills, Rams and Jaguars. Goodwin joked the other day of getting a couple of calls from CFL teams, but it was always expected that Goodwin would be getting interviews after interviewing with the Buccaneers last offseason.
Obviously, the Rooney Rule makes an impact with Goodwin, an African-American. But you can’t get a job without interviewing, and at some point, someone is going to decide Goodwin is the right man for the job.
— By the way, a major point in Goodwin’s favor – the amount of points the offense generated the last three games with his deep-in-the-depth-chart offensive line. Props to those players, but Goody can coach up an offensive line.
— Carson Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand after cutting it on Christmas day and getting four stiches. Palmer joked he was saving orphans from a burning building. Whatever the reason, he said it didn’t bother him.
— Safety D.J. Swearinger again made a strong argument for the Cardinals wanting him to stay. A couple of big hits, a couple of nice tackles, a sack, an interception that was lost on a questionable Kevin Minter roughing-the-passer penalty.
— Chandler Catanzaro with a nice finish: 3-for-3 on field goals, 5-for-5 on extra points.
— Justin Bethel told me recently his foot – which has been injured basically since last year and never fully healed after he hurt it again in the offseason and needed surgery – is finally feeling better. So to see him play his best two games as a cornerback the last two weeks, including a 68-yard pick-6, is gratifying. Especially after Arians called him out after the Miami game.
— We’ll finish on this note: The Cardinals finished the season with a plus-56 point-differential. That’s something that usually translates into a playoff berth, not 7-8-1. In the NFC, only Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle are better. (AFC South winner Houston was minus-49!) But that’s how this season went. We move on to 2017.
Tags: Chandler Catanzaro, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Harold Goodwin, Jared Goff, Justin Bethel, Kevin Minter, Rams
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Harlan Miller wasn’t necessarily supposed to play. Heck, he wasn’t even going to be on the roster, if Tharold Simon hadn’t been cut last week. And he’s a cornerback.
But there he was, after Tony Jefferson – one of the few defensive backs who has stayed healthy all season – sprained his MCL on his first play, on punt coverage. Tyrann Mathieu was already on IR, Tyvon Branch too. Marcus Cooper was out. Justin Bethel used to be a safety, but he was needed at corner. So they sent Miller in to play free safety.
Keep in mind, Miller hasn’t practiced at safety.
“The only thing I could remember was (defensive backs) coach (Nick) Rapone in the safeties meeting telling them to stay deep,” Miller said. “That’s pretty much what I did.”
“I kind of know what a safety does. I just listened a lot.”
It was that kind of game Saturday. Fill in where you can. Hope it holds up. No, the secondary isn’t going to put this on the wall of fame, not with the way Russell Wilson diced them up in the second half. But within the circumstances, it was exactly what they needed. Justin Bethel played much better. Brandon Williams struggled, but he did enough – and his effort on the Tyler Lockett bomb, while unfortunately sending Lockett off injured on a cart, stopped the Seahawks from scoring any points given the Cards’ goalline stand.
— The offensive line too, Evan Boehm, in at right guard for Taylor Boggs who was in for Earl Watford who was in for Evan Mathis. Everyone who thought the Cardinals would be able to score 34 points in Seattle under those circumstances, raise your hand.
— Carson Palmer was great. His stats weren’t as gaudy as Wilson, but Palmer was a man who led his team in a situation where they needed it. Palmer already said he is coming back. Yes, I think the Cardinals should and will draft a quarterback of the future. But to anyone who thinks Palmer should step away and not quarterback this team in 2017, I think that’s crazy.
— Larry Fitzgerald was not a happy man the last couple of weeks. The losing had reached him, the Floyd situation, and he just looked down in the dumps. When the retirement stuff came up, it’s understandable why he’d consider it. I don’t think anything was determined Saturday – but it was a happy Fitz in the locker room. Everyone was happy, but it was particularly nice to see with No. 11.
— J.J. Nelson makes the best of his touches, doesn’t he?
— David Johnson cracks 100 yards. I didn’t think it was possible with the way the game was going, and then he blew past it late. Aside from his fumble – which was three-points-costly – he was the rock on offense. Grinding, grinding, grinding, near 100 yards rushing alone. And then that 29-yard catch to set up the game-winning field goal – MVP-esque.
“I was messing with Steve (Keim) earlier, we need to get his contract done right now, because after every game he getting more and more expensive,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s going to be like ten percent owner of the franchise.”
— (Just as a reminder, Johnson’s contract cannot be re-done or extended until after the 2017 season, per the CBA.)
— Boehm made a mistake on the Cards’ next-to-last drive, blowing his assignment to let Palmer get hit and force an incompletion. Center A.Q. Shipley let him know about it as they came off the field.
“That was on me,” Boehm said. “I thought I lost the game for us. Told myself if we got another opportunity I had to reprove myself that I belonged out there.”
— Fellow rookie offensive lineman Cole Toner got his first work on offense too, just like Boehm had done earlier in the season – as a lead blocker for Johnson.
— With the schedule a little warped this week and players off Monday, I’ll hold my weekly chat Monday afternoon at 3 p.m.
— Have to be happy for Chandler Catanzaro. It’s been a rough year, and I know sometimes fans don’t want to hear this, but he is loved in that locker room and there isn’t a guy in there who wasn’t happy to see him come through.
— The Cardinals are now 3-0 with Palmer in Seattle. They have a confidence now.
— This is way too long on Christmas Eve. We’re heading back to Phoenix as I post this, and soon the Cardinals (and myself) will be headed home to be with our families. It’ll be a much better holiday for all involved.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Tags: Brandon Williams, Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro, Cole Toner, David Johnson, Evan Boehm, Harlan Miller, J.J. Nelson, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Seahawks, Steve Keim, Tony Jefferson
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With Tyrann Mathieu’s late trip to the injured reserve, the Cardinals are going to have two practice squad promotions from this week active against the Seahawks in the secondary today: safety Trevon Hartfield and cornerback Harlan Miller. It’ll be interesting, with cornerback Marcus Cooper (back) out how the Cards handle their defensive backfield. Justin Bethel, who has had his troubles at cornerback, will have to play a role. Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is active again as well. New wide receiver Jeremy Ross will get his first chance to be active for the Cards as well.
The Cardinals’ full inactive list on this Christmas Eve:
— QB Zac Dysert
— WR Marquis Bundy
— CB Marcus Cooper (back)
— DT Olsen Pierre
— T D.J. Humphries (concussion)
— DT Ed Stinson
— DT Xavier Williams
Tags: Harlan Miller, inactives, Jeremy Ross, Justin Bethel, Seahawks. Trevon Hartfield
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