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Falcons aftermath, and Stanton’s hard count

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2017 – 9:38 pm

That Drew Stanton hard count. Those of us who were at training camp practice every day saw it … well, just about every day. There it was, with the Cardinals 21 yards from the end zone, and he barked and the Falcons jumped. He had done it earlier, but guard John Wetzel flinched too. (Bruce Arians let him know: “I already got Wetzel – he don’t have much ass left.”)

But this time, just the Falcons moved and it gave Stanton a free play, and he lobbed a 21-yarder to Smokey Brown that Brown somehow came down with over-the-shoulder.

“We went back to (the hard count) and they kept jumping,” Stanton said.

Those two TD passes to Brown, along with a defense that made Matt Ryan look miserable (preseason, yes, but an 8.1 passer rating is not what the Falcons wanted to see in the third game of the preseason) made Saturday pretty good for the Cardinals. Not great. But good. Much better than this time last year. The starters and main guys are done now. They won’t play Thursday in Denver. Anyone playing this coming game is either not going to be on the team or is likely fighting (a few locks will play – they have to – but the last preseason game is what it is, especially with 90-man rosters).

That opening trip to Detroit, when things count for real, is only two weeks away.

— The running backs situation is interesting. Arians would not say Chris Johnson has locked up a roster spot, notable after Johnson fumbled twice. Elijhaa Penny also lost a fumble. Kerwynn Williams is making this team as a return man, but beyond he and David Johnson, it feels like Penny, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington are battling for two spots.

— DT Olsen Pierre is in concussion protocol. Hopefully he’s OK. If he’s down for any time, depending on what happens with Robert Nkemdiche’s calf strain, things could get dicey on the defensive line.

— Stanton quietly had a nice night, completing 4-of-6 passes for 53 yards and his score.

— Linebacker Cap Capi probably isn’t making this team (although Jarvis Jones’ lingering back issue might create a need for a fourth OLB; that guy could still come from final cuts or a trade too). But Capi was impressive Saturday, enough to earn props from Arians. He had seven tackles, 1½ sacks and a tackle for loss.

— The playmakers on defense made plays. Markus Golden gets a strip sack. Tyrann Mathieu a pick on a tipped pass by Karlos Dansby. Patrick Peterson should’ve had a pick, but he lost it as he was going to the ground. “He’s getting fined for his drop,” Arians deadpanned.

— Matt Wile seemed to have a much better night than Richie Leone punting, although the numbers weren’t all that different. Right now, I’d guess Wile has the lead for a roster spot.

Huge comeback night for Brown. He spiked the ball on the pylon after his first score. “It was an emotional release to show people that I’m back and feeling good.” Brown said. Brown has to stay healthy. That’s a given. But the Cardinals need him out there and productive. His impact is obvious. We saw it Saturday.

— Arians acknowledged he considered not playing running back David Johnson Saturday until changing his mind, in large part because Johnson was part of the early script. Johnson made his lone catch of the preseason on the game’s second play, resulting in a first down. He came out after that.


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Friday before the Falcons, in a new stadium

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2017 – 2:44 pm

So the Cardinals get to open a stadium Saturday. It just isn’t their own. They’ve done that before, and I remember that day – even though it was in my previous life with the East Valley Tribune. It was just the preseason opener, but the Steelers were in town and a fanbase thirsty for an indoor stadium finally had one. The atmosphere was excellent.

In the Georgia Dome the Falcons didn’t have as bad of a situation as the Cardinals did in Sun Devil Stadium. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl last season in that building. But the first game in a new palace means something, preseason or not. Honestly, the Cardinals couldn’t really get a better final test before the regular season. (No starters are going to play in Denver.)

A lot has been said about the length of camp, but realistically, the Cardinals are always going to have long camps because they need to be inside. As Bruce Arians said, putting 90 players (plus, including interns, some 30 coaches) inside the practice bubble in Tempe doesn’t make sense. But part of camp next year sounds likely to include a week against another team, so that certainly would break up the monotony.

— Without a lot of David Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s hard to really get a sense of what the Cardinals are going to have offensively no matter what happens in Atlanta. But no matter what Arians says, I do think that unit needs to have a couple of good drives early. Arians noted he’d like to see the pass protection be solid because the Cards struggled in that area in Atlanta last year.

— Speaking of the offensive line, here’s what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said his message was to the unit about their responsibility for Carson Palmer: “Either you protect him or I’m not going to protect you.”

Added Goodwin, “We have to do a better job, because we know he makes us go. Without him, it’s an uphill battle.”

— Defensively, you want to see better linebacker play than last week. Hopefully, the cornerbacks not named Patrick Peterson face some tests as well.

— It was good to hear Arians say he doesn’t think defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will miss a regular-season game. The key will be that first day of practice following the Broncos preseason finale. You want Nkemdiche in the lineup, but, like Deone Bucannon, if he misses the opener to make sure he’s around the rest of the season, you want to be smart.

— In my opinion, some of the battles still going on up and down the depth chart: Backup running back, although I think Chris Johnson has the edge on Kerwynn Williams; Backup inside linebacker between Josh Bynes and Philip Wheeler; and the sixth wide receiver between Brittan Golden and Jeremy Ross, and with an outside shot to Aaron Dobson (because of his speed).

— Another battle still wide open is punter. Arians said neither Matt Wile nor Richie Leone has separated themselves, and Arians didn’t rule out looking elsewhere. One plus is the 90-man roster through the last preseason game. The Cards can evaluate both punters two more games.


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After practice: The Governor visits

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2017 – 4:49 pm

It was the last regular schedule day at #CardsCamp Wednesday (as well as the last open practice.) There is a morning practice closed to the public Thursday, and then training camp is (mercifully) over. Last year, the last regular practice had visitors — the Phoenix Suns. This year, there was also a special visit — Govenor Doug Ducey, who arrived with team president Michael Bidwill and talked with Bidwill through the length of the workout.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald actually left practice at one point (the setup of practice left the starting offense and the starting defense on the sideline for extended period of time while the other side of the ball worked) to say hello to Ducey and to threaten to give Bidwill a hug despite being sweaty as hell by that point. (That, like tackling, is a favorite thing for Fitz. I speak from experience.) Later in the practice, Fitzgerald brought David Johnson over for an introduction. Then Fitzgerald had another post-practice conversation with Ducey. Fitz understands how to make all the connections.

— CB Tramon Williams did not practice, apparently taking a rest day. RB Kerwynn Williams sat again with a sore foot, after it had been stepped on.

— At one point, S Budda Baker went down after a play and hobbled off with the assistance of head athletic trainer Tom Reed. But Baker turned out to be OK and came back to practice.

— Fitz made a spectacular diving one-handed catch on the sideline. Tight end Gerald Christian made a great leaping TD catch in the back of the end zone, and fellow tight end Ricky Seals-Jones made an equally impressive grab over (literally) linebacker Philip Wheeler. Wide receiver Krishawn Hogan made an improbable catch with CB Brandon Williams in a perfect spot.

— One day left.


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After practice: Nkemdiche limps off

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2017 – 5:24 pm

Bruce Arians was talking at lunchtime about how healthy the Cardinals were getting. Then defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche limped off to the locker room, accompanied by a trainer. Looked like his left ankle or leg was bothering him. No way to know what it is — your first thought is that it isn’t serious, but we’ll talk to Arians tomorrow — yet with the very good preseason/camp Nkemdiche has been having, it’s certainly an undesirable situation.

— QB Carson Palmer took a rest day. So too did LB Karlos Dansby, who finally came back to practice Monday. I’m sure they are just being careful with Dansby, but it’s been a while since he’s had a couple practices in a row.

— With Dansby not out there, Josh Bynes was taking first-team reps at inside linebacker with Haason Reddick in Bynes’ first practice following a hamstring issue. It sure looks like Bynes has a roster spot, unless he collapses the rest of the preseason.

— RB Kerwynn Williams was also sitting out practice. Not sure his aliment. Arians did not mention him during his press conference.

— The last two days, Reddick has been taking reps as an OLB/pass rusher during one-on-one drills with the offensive line. (Actually, they have been two-on-two drills as  the OL works on protecting on stunts and twists.) The Cardinals aren’t going to overwhelm Reddick with too many non-ILB things right now, but Arians had said they want to get him a little more exposure to pass rushing.

— Is David Johnson getting to do enough? It’s interesting to watch the running back sprint 30, 40, 50 yards through a play sometimes — occasionally he doesn’t even have the ball — in what looks like an attempt just to get some running in. (Side note: He’s fast. Faster than you think.)

— During “thud” tackling, whoever is covering TE Jermaine Gresham better be ready. Gresham still plows into a defender who chooses to get in front of him.

— During scout team work, rookie QB Trevor Knight had a couple of nice 44-yard bombs to RB James Summers (over LB Chandler Jones) and WR Krishawn Hogan (over S Budda Baker.)

— Mostly though, it was a practice of the defense. Tyrann Mathieu was actually getting irritated late in the work because scout-look QBs were holding the ball so long against the No. 1 D (there would have been multiple sacks). Mathieu would have had one airborne pick before he yanked his arms down at the last second, preventing any kind of in-air contact, and on another play where Knight short-hopped a receiver Mathieu had defended perfectly, Mathieu angrily batted the ball back into the turf. He knows he would’ve had the pick.

— Guys that did get interceptions: CB Patrick Peterson, S Ironhead Gallon, LB Philip Wheeler in his first practice back from injury, and Baker.


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Friday before the Bears, a preseason meme

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2017 – 2:49 pm

The Bears, the Cardinals and really, who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bullspit? Bullspit!

I know it’s only Week 2 for the Bears — and frankly, for the Cardinals, who aren’t marching their main guys out for a half until next week’s Week 4/Week 3 game in Atlanta — so again, this is more of a ramp-up game. Bruce Arians isn’t calling plays until next week (that falls on QB coach Byron Leftwich again.) There will be around 20 plays for the starters, although as usual it could be less if each unit is effective. The biggest story in the game will probably be Chicago QBs Mike Glennon vs. Mitchell Trubisky, so we can see how Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson and company can mess with the immediate Bears future.

(In ’06, that Bears preseason game was Matt Leinart’s second appearance in the NFL, after playing on only a couple of days of practice — he signed late — in New England the week before. Leinart vs Warner. Those were the days.)

— It’ll be the first game for left tackle D.J. Humphries. Arians said Humphries did fine in his first practice Wednesday. I thought he had a slow start to Thursday’s work. As with the whole offensive line, he needs to ramp up — although again, with so much camp, there is plenty of time to get ready.

— Speaking of getting ready, the same goes for linebacker Karlos Dansby, who has been bothered by a leg issue. Deone Bucannon is ostensibly still on target to return to practice likely after the preseason games are over. Maybe a couple of days before. That inside linebacker crew could be a juggling situation for the first game. Haason Reddick is clearly still learning, and Scooby Wright, while solid on special teams, has shortcomings on defense. Both are players to watch against the Bears.

— DT Robert Nkemdiche has played well in the preseason but this week, the coaching clearly got harder. Nkemdiche is doing the right things as far as effort and intensity. But the technique must improve, because that is what will beat the better players in the regular season. Everyone has the talent.

— Others I’ll be watching in particular this week: Both punters; Kerwynn Williams on another punt return or two; the down-depth-chart receivers like Carlton Agudosi and Chris Hubert in particular since Brittan Golden (groin) likely won’t play; Justin Bethel and Tramon Williams (I haven’t forgotten about CB No. 2); and more Budda Baker.

— It’d be nice to see a little David Johnson but not too much.

— I’ll be curious to see how much John Brown plays. Smoke did much more in practice this week. But he certainly is not 100 percent, and the trainers keep a close eye on that quad injury. Still, Brown made some plays Thursday, and after one touchdown Larry Fitzgerald made sure everyone knew it was Smoke and then made sure to give Brown the side-five.

— Fitz, by the way, seemed like he was having a great time Thursday. For a guy who is usually tops on the list of wishing training camp wasn’t so long, it didn’t seem to be impacting him. That’s probably good, because after the game, there’s still one week left.


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After practice: Lethargic offense and a glove

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2017 – 6:31 pm

Well, it’s a different kind of “After practice” post here because, for the first time in camp, we had Bruce Arians commenting on an afternoon practice as soon as it was over. Usually Arians talks in the morning, or at the very least right before practice. But because of Roger Goodell’s appearance today, Arians was moved back. What ended up happening? Arians talked about how the Cardinals were “lethargic offensively.” He didn’t have great things to say about the wide receivers in particular, warning of potentially bringing in other pass catchers. But he wasn’t happy with other parts, some of the blocking and dropped passes by tight ends. He did say Carson Palmer — all the quarterbacks, actually — did well. They didn’t get any help.

One particular sequence, as the Cardinals practiced their coming-off-the-goal line on offense. Second unit was in, with Drew Stanton behind center. The ugly series went:
–No one really open, and when Stanton went to safety valve it to running back Kerwynn Williams, Williams wasn’t looking, apparently bothered by an ankle that he had looked at earlier in practice;
— Center Tony Bergstrom forgetting the snap count and snapping early, causing a fumble that Stanton needed to fall on;
— A false start by right tackle Ulrick John;
— A dropped pass by tight end Ifeanyi Momah.

That was kind of the vibe of the day.

— There were a couple of offensive highlights. During that same scenario with the first-unit offense, running back David Johnson busted up the middle and then veered left on a third-down draw play and the receivers all to one side, galloping to a 70-yard run or so. It was pretty. It also set up a nice 2-yard TD pass later from Palmer to Jaron Brown, who posted up cornerback Justin Bethel in the end zone.

— Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand. Arians said Palmer would have to say why, and I didn’t get a chance to ask. The last time Palmer had a glove on his hand, it was after getting a cut prior to the season finale in Los Angeles last year.

— At one point, offensive line coach Harold Goodwin had a conversation with rookie guard Dorian Johnson, who has taken some lumps in camp.

— Blaine Gabbert had a beautiful 45-yard-or-so deep ball to wide receiver Chris Hubert.

— Red-hot linebacker Josh Bynes had another practice interception.

— So did Tyrann Mathieu, who cut right in front of Larry Fitzgerald.


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Raiders aftermath, as Stanton shines

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2017 – 12:01 am

It was a new perspective for me Saturday night, with my new preseason duties as sideline radio reporter putting me down on the field the whole game. The focus goes up when there isn’t Twitter to watch and interact with, that’s for sure. The Cardinals had most things go exactly how they’d like them to have gone. The injuries were limited and minor, and the first-team offense was solid.

But the fact Drew Stanton played so well (11-of-15 passing) was helpful. One, it helps define what the rest of the preseason is about, and in the case of the quarterbacks, that’s whether Blaine Gabbert is someone to keep as a third quarterback rather than supplanting Stanton as No. 2 (not that it was ever that close to being a battle anyway.) The Cardinals took a flier on Gabbert to see if he might have some future value. The plan was always for Stanton to remain No. 2. Stanton’s poise in the pocket impressed Saturday. He also praised strength coach Buddy Morris and that crew for preparing his body so well, noting it’s made a difference. Whatever the reason Stanton got off to such a good start — he had as many completions against the Raiders as he did all of the 2016 preseason — the Cardinals will take it.

— Same with Carson Palmer, who looked sharp. There were a couple of near misses. The Cards will lament greatly if Palmer slightly overthrows a wide-open Jaron Brown for what should’ve been a 46-yard touchdown if it had been the regular season. But the bullet to Brittan Golden for a touchdown was nice, and Palmer maneuvered the pocket well.

— David Johnson, 3 carries for 16 yards. I’m not sure I’d need to see him at all the rest of the preseason. He looked fine.

— Golden is one of those guys who just makes it so hard to cut. Three catches for 44 yards and a score, and he’s good on special teams.

— The punters weren’t busy, but they clearly got the message from coach Bruce Arians. Each only punted once. Matt Wile crushed a 65-yarder (net of 56), Richie Leone launched a 61-yarder (net of 45). Wile’s kickoffs were impressive all night too. In fact, special teams did pretty well. Josh Mauro had a blocked field goal and Kerwynn Williams had a 35-yard kickoff return and a 13-yard punt return. Phil Dawson nailed both field goal tries and two extra points with ease (Wile missed a 46-yard field goal, but again, he won’t be trying field goals when it counts.)

— Linebacker Josh Bynes had a team-best six tackles, a half-sack, a tackle-for-loss, a big forced fumble and a pass breakup. He’s a vet, last of the Lions, signed because of injuries — and you have to wonder if he could make a push for a roster spot. he and Scooby Wright could be fighting for a possible place.

— Gabbert had a tougher time in Game 2, but part of that was the blocking, which didn’t hold up all that well. Gabbert took four sacks. That can’t happen, either with him or with the line.

— Did we mention that DT Robert Nkemdiche is playing well? He did again Saturday — he blew up a third-and-1 play for the Raiders, and was in the middle of stuffing the Raiders on the very next fourth down try — and you can see the confidence is feeding into his upswing. If he plays well, the line will be fine, even post-Calais.

OK, it’s midnight. Cards are off Sunday and back to training camp practice Monday.


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Friday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2017 – 3:02 pm

Finally, some starters.

It could be quick for either of the units against the Raiders. As in years past, if the Cardinals carve up Oakland for an 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession, or the defense forces a couple of quick punts, I could see Bruce Arians sitting down his main guys. To me, this game is important for the offense and the collective confidence. Carson Palmer sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices, so I’m curious to see how that comes together – especially since the receiving crew, beyond Fitz, has been up and down and injured in camp thus far.

Defensively, it sure seems the confidence is there. Robert Nkemdiche is breaking out. Tyrann Mathieu is full-fledged Honey Badger-y. And Palmer and Bruce Arians believe this has been Patrick Peterson’s best camp yet.

Peterson, as usual, is thinking big.

“If you want to be remembered somewhere where you can be forever – which is Canton – those are the things I can control, make sure to continue building up my résumé,” Peterson said (pictured here with Cardinals Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams).

Some other things to think about before the Cards get to a second preseason game, and the Raiders play their first:

— The players in particular I want to watch in the game, even if it is for limited time: CB Justin Bethel, LB Haason Reddick, DT Olsen Pierre, G Evan Boehm, RT Jared Veldheer, WR Jaron Brown and all three QBs: Palmer, Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert.

Some played last week, some did not. Veldheer still hasn’t played right tackle in a game. Seeing Bethel under the lights is important. I want to see how Gabbert follows up with his impressive debut and how Stanton responds to all the Gabbert discussion.

— Arians again praised Stanton all week. I also thought it was interesting to hear Arians speak about Stanton and his hits and misses in practice:

“There has been an interception or two, some are not his fault,” Arians said. “Sometimes when you are running with those twos and threes, guys aren’t where they are supposed to be and you try to force one. I do like that, see if you can get it in that window and see if you can or can’t. No big deal if you throw a pick.”

Dunno if that applies to preseason games as well.

— Punter is something to watch as well. Arians said he wanted to see more from either Matt Wile or Richie Leone (preferably both, but one is enough). I’d guess they will split the punts again. If you can’t punt well at University of Phoenix Stadium – where this and next week’s games are – that’s a red flag.

— We’ll get to see Kerwynn Williams get run as a return man. We know Williams can return kicks OK. How he will do on punts – and whether he could manage that job with T.J. Logan out – is what is in the spotlight.

— Two weeks of training camp left at the stadium. As of now, seven practices are scheduled to be open to the public: Monday through Thursday next week, and Monday through Wednesday the week after.

— Finally, for those who are looking for my constant in-game tweeting, that will drop off quite a bit in the preseason. For the next four games, with Paul Calvisi in the radio booth doing play-by-play, I will be on the sideline as the reporter for the radio broadcasts on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. (And for those who don’t like my constant in-game tweeting, you win!)


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Thoughts on the first depth chart

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2017 – 3:33 pm

The first depth chart is here, and mostly that means, dang, we are about to have a football game (and one week from Thursday, we will). This comes with all the same normal disclaimers — including the note that it was prepared by the media relations staff. Also good to note that rookies are always low when this first comes out, and indeed, in practice Budda Baker and Chad Williams, for instance, are running behind a handful of other guys. But they will be on the team, barring something unforeseen.

In fact, there aren’t any real surprises. Chris Johnson and Kerwynn Williams are listed as “co” No. 2 running backs, and that’s a good sign for Williams (although I expect CJ2K to have the job when it’s all said and done.) Olsen Pierre is ahead of Xavier Williams on the defensive line. The injuries of Elie Bouka and Jumel Rolle look like they’ve hurt their depth chart standing. And even though Harlan Miller is listed among the safeties, he’s done most of his work thus far at cornerback.


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Behind Johnson, the look of running back room

Posted by Darren Urban on May 19, 2017 – 9:45 am

When you have arguably the best running back in the league — certainly in the top two or three — who can both rush and catch the ball with any back out there, the notion of who is behind him can get lost. But then it was reported this week, before LeGarrette Blount signed with the Eagles, that the Cardinals showed some interest. It raises the question, with the team moving on from veteran Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington giving wide receiver a shot, just how that depth chart will fill out behind David Johnson.

As it stands right now, Kerwynn Williams figures to be the top running option behind Johnson. Williams has earned that nod over the years; he has produced on the ground when he has gotten the chance. T.J. Logan, the rookie fifth-round pick, is a virtual lock to make the roster. His kickoff return skills alone help, and from what little I have seen in the OTAs and rookie minicamp, the speed on display after catch a short pass is a very real threat.

Beyond that? Ellington could still officially end up as a running back, although it feels like in many ways his and Logan’s skillsets are similar. Big Elijhaa Penny seems to be the wild card. Is he the big back the Cards could use between the tackles if needed? Do the Cardinals need to add someone at some point? I’ve never gotten the sense the Cardinals felt a strong need to add another vet back — it was a little surprising to hear Blount caught their attention — but that’s part of what OTAs and minicamp will be for, to sort that need out. It would never be surprising to have the Cardinals decide to make a late signing either. That’s what happened with Chris Johnson, and with GM Steve Keim, you never rule out that possibility.


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