There have been no official announcements yet from the Cardinals about additions and changes to the coaching staff, but multiple reports from many places have noted that new head coach Bruce Arians — who said Friday he was hoping to have his staff set by Sunday — is starting to do just that.
To the surprise of no one, former Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is the pick for Ray Horton’s replacement as defensive coordinator. Bowles took over in Philly for the fired Juan Castillo last year as the Eagles season went from bad to worse. Bowles played for Arians at Temple and later played for the Redskins and 49ers. Here’s an interesting coincidence too — Bowles was interviewed for the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator job in 2011, the spot that eventually went to Horton. He worked as the assistant head coach and interim head coach while in Miami, but his part-season stint in Philly this season was his first as a coordinator.
For offensive coordinator, Arians will go back to his Colts’ ties to bring in Harold Goodwin, who was the offensive line coach in Indianapolis. Arians already said he will call his own plays. But having Goodwin on staff — along with whomever is the going to be the offensive line coach — will give the Cards extra eyes on a unit that needs to improve. Arians already said he is a big believer in technique on the line. Goodwin’s brother, Jonathan, is an offensive lineman for the 49ers.
(It may be worth noting, after a lot of talk of late that after the head coaching hires around the league did not include a minority, both Cardinals’ coordinators will be African-American.)
The Cardinals do need a lot more spots filled. It looks like Arians will move on from the bulk of the holdover coaches. Special teams coach Kevin Spencer joined former boss Ken Whisenhunt with the Chargers Saturday (Whiz was named offensive coordinator and the Chargers hired Frank Reich, who was just the Cards’ receivers coach, as the quarterbacks coach). The Cards reportedly only are keeping tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens — Kitchens played quarterback in college for Arians when Arians was the offensive coordinator in 1997 for Alabama — and strength coach John Lott. That would mean moving on from defensive line coach Ron Aiken, linebackers coaches Matt Raich and Ryan Slowik and defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi.
Again, there have been no official announcements yet. Whether the staff is all in place by tomorrow is in question, but as coaches and scouts head to Mobile next week for the Senior Bowl work, it seems that Arians will have a good chunk of his work done (and Mobile is often a place where coaches can interview prospective candidates, too.)
Tags: Bruce Arians, coaching staff, Freddie Kitchens, Harold Goodwin, John Lott, Kevin Spencer, Louie Cioffi, Matt Raich, Ron Aiken, Ryan Slowik, Todd Bowles
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Before I power down for the evening — the Arians news continues again tomorrow with the 1 p.m. press conference, with some behind-the-scenes stuff on azcardinals.com too — a few thoughts on the newest Cardinals’ head coach.
It feels like a good move for the Cardinals. This is a guy who many thought would be a hot candidate for a head coaching job and who was close to getting the Bears job. He’s about a vertical passing game — one of the reasons he reportedly lost his offensive coordinator job in Pittsburgh was because he passed too much. I do think, with Steve Keim as general manager, the offensive line and run game will be made a priority. That part of the offense has to get better. It has to get better in general, and it has to get better to ease the pressure on a passing offense that — at this point — can’t shoulder such a burden.
I’d think Larry Fitzgerald is a big winner here, assuming that consistent quarterback play can be found. I really have no doubt that the bottoming out of the quarterback position won’t be repeated. Will the franchise quarterback be found this season? No way to know, but given the draft class, it might not be possible. But I do think the offense will get better. But the proof will be on the field in September, October, etc.
As for the defense, there’s a lot to settle. There are a lot of reports about defensive coordinator Ray Horton, about him being upset he didn’t get the head coaching job, about him wanting out, about the Cards replacing him. Here’s all that I know as I type this: He’s still under contract, he’s still employed by the Cards. (And the reported replacement, Todd Bowles, is still under contract for the Eagles.) Could there be a change? There is always that possibility when a head coaching change happens. Anyone assuming that something was set in stone — how many times in the last three weeks has something been put out there, nationally, and have it turn out to be untrue? — is wrong because these are all fluid situations.
Losing Horton doesn’t sound appealing. I get that. I do know this, that for those who suggested on Twitter that there would be a player revolt, I don’t see it. Some players might not be happy. Others might embrace a change. But players know coaches come and go. That’s the business.
We’ll see how the staff shapes up. If Horton isn’t coming back, the other defensive coaches may be moving on too. I’d think special teams coach Kevin Spencer could be OK, since he coached with Arians in Pittsburgh. Strength coach John Lott could be OK. It was a little strange when tight end coach Freddie Kitchens was the lone offensive coach retained, but look at this — Arians was the offensive coordinator for the University of Alabama in 1997, the same year Kitchens, then a senior, was quarterbacking the Crimson Tide. So there is a tie there.
There will be much more tomorrow. So I’m going to get some sleep now.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Freddie Kitchens, Kevin Spencer, Larry Fitzgerald, Ray Horton, Steve Keim, Todd Bowles
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Indianapolis is the anti-Dallas — meaning it’s cold, but no snow. You can see Lucas Oil Stadium from my hotel room (proof below). And speaking of my room, that’s where the computer will be hooked up for tomorrow’s live chat with general manager Rod Graves and director of player personnel Steve Keim (the link is here), which will begin a little after 1 p.m. Arizona time. As you can imagine, time is precious here in Indy, but we will have some combination of 15- or 20-minute chats each or one bigger one for about 30-40 minutes. Obviously we will get to as many questions as we can (and try to be realistic; Don’t bother asking flat out if the Cards will take a QB with the first pick, for instance. They don’t know yet and even if they did, I don’t see it being revealed on a live chat in February).
Before then, I’ll be over at the stadium as the first wave of players, coaches and GMs come through the media area. Because so many athletes train at the Valley’s Athletes Performance, our flight today had a heavy NFL-bent — among those I saw on the plane were Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert, Washington QB Jake Locker and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, along with Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator Mike Miller and special teams coach Kevin Spencer.
Welcome to Indy 2011.
Tags: Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Ken Whisenhunt, Kevin Spencer, Mike Miller, Rod Graves, Scouting combine, Steve Keim
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Let’s just say the bye week is going to be much more enjoyable than expected.
The Cards don’t have a game for two weeks but know they will go to Seattle Oct. 24 no worse than tied for first place in the NFC West, and reside there by themselves tonight. The Rams and 49ers both lost Sunday (the Niners 0-5? Wow) and the Cards are where they should be.
All the ills aren’t cured. It’d be easy to say rookie quarterback Max Hall could have had four turnovers and not just one, since the Cards fell on two fumbles and Hall was fortunate his end zone pass right before his infamous fumble-TD-to-Levi-Brown was picked off.
But you can play that game all day. You think the Saints aren’t sitting back saying, “If we just hadn’t fumbled that ball that Kerry Rhodes returned …” etc, etc? This is football. The bounces sometimes have to go your way.
— Kurt Warner, moments before Rhodes had his game-changing fumble return for a TD, was asked by play-by-play guy Chris Rose about the Cards nursing a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter. “I’m definitely surprised,” Warner admitted. Me too. But in a good way.
— With two big TD fumble returns in two weeks (and a long INT return in the season opener) for Rhodes, who says the Cards lost the ability to have a playmaking free safety with the ball in his hands when Antrel Rolle left?
He doesn’t do flips in the end zone, but I noticed he brought a little Lambeau Leap action to the north end zone crowd.
— Rhodes is the first Cardinal to have two fumble returns for a TD in one season since the great Leo Sugar in 1957. No, can’t say I knew of him either.
— Running back Beanie Wells wore a wide smile when he walked off the field. “Today,” he said, “we ran it.” Beanie only had 35 yards but he had a career-high 20 carries (compared to four for Tim Hightower). I asked coach Ken Whisenhunt if there was a reason the Cards went so heavy with Beanie today and Whiz said “Not really,” but obviously Beanie was thrilled.
— Wells had a fumble Sunday that wasn’t noticed much. It was his last carry on the drive in which Jay Feely booted his final field goal for a 16-13 lead. The ball bounced right back to him, but it was could have been disaster.
— I’m sure I’ll be writing about Hall – again – this week. But let’s say it was a good start. He wasn’t going to rip it up. But everyone can see why he engenders such confidence by the way he played. Was he a little crazy to barrel in toward the end zone on the play in which he was drilled and knocked woozy? I mean, didn’t he see Michael Vick get hurt on the same kind of play?
You know what? I still liked it. So did TD-scorer Levi Brown. “He’s a tough little guy,” Brown said. “He’s trying to gain respect of the team and I think he has it now. He doesn’t need to do that anymore. But he’s trying to make plays.”
— Here are some stats for the Cards’ defense to put on the résumé: The Saints had 13 snaps in the red zone Sunday. They gained 22 yards. Drew Brees threw eight passes, completing just three for all of two yards. And there was a false start in there.
— Cards are 3-2 under Whisenhunt for a fourth straight year. They have never been 2-3 under Whiz. And that’s nine straight times the Cards have followed a loss with a win.
— I feel bad special teams didn’t get more props today. The Hyphen has 60- and 48-yard kickoff returns to start, punter Ben Graham pinned the Saints deep a few times (including the effort by Michael Adams to down it at the 1 just before the Paris Lenon interception) and Andre Roberts looked solid on punt returns. Feely simply kicked all his field goals. A great day for Kevin Spencer’s charges.
— Special teams killed the Saints, especially the miss of the 29-yard field goal by veteran John Carney. That was the Saints’ last chance to lead (it was 13-13 at the time). After the Sebastian Janikowski easy miss last home game, maybe there is a such thing as field-goal defense even without a block.
“It gave us momentum when they missed the field goal, gives you that spark,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “The big thing, it was getting pressure, getting a push. The kicker he sees us and maybe he adjusts his kick a little bit if we get our hands up. I think our crowd gets in the heads a little bit. They are loud. That was I thought as loud as I’ve heard it since the NFC Championship game.”
— DRC must love Breast Cancer Awareness games. His last two INT returns for TDs came in that game – sporting pink today and last year too in his game-winning pick-6 at UoP Stadium against Houston.
— Larry Fitzgerald had his best game today of the season (seven catches for 93 yards, including a spectacular grab over the middle while being facemasked) but take away the catches and Fitz was just as clutch. Fitz was the one who broke up the near-interception by Malcolm Jenkins in the first half to give Levi his chance, Fitz grabbed the Saints’ try at an onside kick, and he also saved the Cards when Ben Patrick fumbled in the last few moments and the Saints managed to keep it from going out of bounds.
OK, that’s plenty. I write this while watching the game on DVR (Fitz is just getting the onside kick now). A big win. A lot of season to go. But at the bye, 3-2 sounds pretty good.
Tags: 49ers, Andre Roberts, Beanie Wells, Ben Graham, Ben Patrick, Calais Campbell, DRC, Drew Brees, Jay Feely, Ken Whisenhunt, Kerry Rhodes, Kevin Spencer, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Max Hall, Michael Adams, Paris Lenon, Rams, Saints, Seahawks, Tim Hightower
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Ranking special-teams units across the league is not an easy task, so when Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News came up with a system to do so, it’s become universally regarded as the best way to sort out such things. And this season, Gosselin’s rankings put the Cards eighth.
“Our specialists had a good year,” Spencer said, noting improvements in punts inside the 20, net and gross punting averages, and field-goal-made percentage. “The return game showed some life.
“It was an excellent effort by our veterans and out young guys.”
Rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling made an impact both in coverage and as a kickoff return man, while Sean Morey was a Pro Bowl alternate this season on special teams. Punter Ben Graham was snubbed for the Pro Bowl himself after tying the NFL record for punts inside the 20. Neil Rackers made an NFL-best 94.7 percent of his field-goal attempts. The Cards also got impactful seasons from guys like Jason Wright and Kenny Iwebema, among others.
“It’s amazing how smart you become when you have good players,” Spencer said.
Tags: Ben Graham, Jason Wright, Kenny Iwebema, Kevin Spencer, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Neil Rackers, Sean Morey, special teams
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Just as I sat at my kitchen table a week ago considering the rubble of the last-second loss in Tennessee changing where the Cardinals stood, a week later, a trademark victory for the season once again shifts the landscape.
The Cards’ 30-17 win – one for which the cliché “not as close as the final score indicates” was created – was so important on so many levels. The sting of the Titans’ loss is gone. The fear of other things, like Kurt Warner’s post-concussion deal or how Jeremy Bridges would hold up, that’s gone too.
Just to put this out there: I always thought the Cards would be ready for that Monday night game in San Francisco. If there is a word to describe how the Cards collectively feel about that loss to open the season, it was &*%$@$!, you know, if that was a word. “We owe those guys a little something for what they did to us earlier this year,” safety Adrian Wilson said. Uh, yeah.
But before we move on to the Niners, here are some thoughts on Sunday night:
— Warner said he pretty much knew Friday he was going to be able to play. And boy, did he play. He looked great, picking up where he left off. The only concern was the significant limp he had afterward because he took a shot on that hip. It’ll be very interesting to see how he feels this week, although the Cards don’t practice until Thursday because of the Monday night game, so he has an extra day to heal.
— Scary to see Tim Hightower fumble early. That could have been disaster. But the Cards hung in there, and Hightower almost looked like he was trying to make up for it on that late 32-yard run – the play on which Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson broke his leg – by trying to barrel into the end zone.
— I was at the Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Miami when Willis McGahee blew out his knee and when I watched the play with E.J. Henderson, that was the first thing I thought of.
— Nice to see the Cards bomb away for Larry Fitzgerald. It didn’t work out as often as Fitz would have liked, but it’s obviously something with which the Cards should stick.
— Wilson tried to downplay what the Cards did to Adrian Peterson – “Don’t mistake it. He’s the best back in football, so let’s not get too full of ourselves,” he said – but that was a great showing to control him, especially after what Chris Johnson did to them the week before. The game was close much of Sunday night, so it wasn’t like the Vikings had pass every play. At least at first.
— Brandon Keith got into his first game and actually played for a snap at guard when Deuce Lutui got hurt. Probably not enough of a sample to judge Keith as an o-lineman yet.
— The Cards averaged 4.5 yards a carry again on the ground. The evolution of the ground game may turn out to be the underlying story of the season.
— Special teams continue to be huge. Breaston’s 64-yard punt return was the highlight this time. Special teams coach Kevin Spencer should be (and is) like a proud papa.
— When Fitz fought through six Vikings to turn an eight-yard gain into a 15-yard gain early in the second quarter, that was impressive. By the way, didn’t I say the Minnesota boy was going to play a big role? Eight catches, 143 yards. It’s his 23rd 100-yard game, a few behind Anquan Boldin (who had 98 yards at the half but couldn’t get one more catch to crack 100).
— I absolutely love Antrel Rolle as wildcat quarterback. Rolle was trying to throw deep to Breaston on his one play, but smartly pulled it down and then used his amazing scat-quicks to avoid defenders and gain nine yards on a rush.
— Alan Branch had another nice game. He’s become a force on the line, which, as a unit, has been impressive.
— Four left – at SF, at Detroit, home against the Rams, home against the Packers. 12-4 anyone? It’s possible, after the Cardinals’ greybeard outclassed the Vikings’ greybeard.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Adrian Wilson, Alan Branch, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, Brandon Keith, Chris Johnson, E.J. Henderson, Jeremy Bridges, Kevin Spencer, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower, Vikings
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