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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: Hurting John Brown “can’t rush it”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 5:32 pm

For the first time in a couple of weeks, John Brown worked in 11-on-11 situations in practice Tuesday. He didn’t run every rep he normally would, because he is, by his own admission after practice, not healed from his quad injury. It was a sullen Smoke who talked about his situation. He clearly knows his absence is felt, and he realizes many want him back on the field. But the wideout made it plain he wasn’t going to rush the process.

“I understand the situation at receiver but I’m just going to come back when I’m ready,” Brown said.

Brown knows his injury history. He’s also key to this offense. If he can get healthy in another week or two, that’s probably good enough. He needs to be healthy when the games count.

“I can’t rush it,” Brown added. “My body is different than others. They expect me to come back fast, but I can’t.”

All the receivers heard Bruce Arians’ message from the day before. Larry Fitzgerald was supposed to have a rest day Tuesday. He was out there practicing. On one touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hubert — who didn’t catch the ball as much as he was forced to catch the ball, barely turning around before a Trevor Knight laser lodged in his stomach — Fitzgerald bellowed “We’ve got 12 who can play! We’ve got 12 who can play in the league!”

— It wasn’t a perfect day for on-notice receivers. Rookie Chad Williams got two yards behind a defender and QB Blaine Gabbert dropped in a gorgeous 39-yard bomb perfectly, only to have the ball go through Williams’ arms. But the dropsies went both ways. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, safety Harlan Miller and linebacker Cap Capi all dropped sure interceptions. Capi would easily have had a pick-6 on a throw to the flat.

— Robert Nkemdiche was getting reps in one-on-ones against offensive linemen every time through a unit — first-string, second-string, third-string. The last time through he exploded into and through the chest of rookie guard Dorian Johnson. Clearly, Nkemdiche still needs to work on proper technique. But if he doesn’t get it, it won’t be for lack of coaching.

— DT Frostee Rucker was also supposed to have an off day but like Fitz, he practiced. Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson and Karlos Dansby sat. G Mike Iupati stopped taking reps midway through practice — not sure if it was injury-related, but Cole Toner worked with the first unit — and linebacker Josh Bynes also left practice early. Linebacker Markus Golden (ankle) missed a second straight practice.

— Finally, if there was any question about how hard it is to cover running back David Johnson on pass plays, it was painfully evident. Linebackers have no chance — Johnson twisted up Haason Reddick, Chandler Jones and Scooby Wright at different times. It’s not fair, really.


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After practice: Fitz strikes again

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2017 – 5:34 pm

Ron Wolfley wasn’t around, but Larry Fitzgerald was feisty, and he took it out on everyone else. First there was a tackle of quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich (whom we learned earlier in the day would be calling the plays against the Raiders on Saturday). Then later, Brittan Golden was up.

It started innocently enough. Fitz starting yelling into the stands to get the attention of Golden’s young daughter, who was sitting with Golden’s wife off by themselves, but close enough to hear Fitz. Once Fitz figured she was looking, he went to work, playfully taking down Golden and then rolling on top of him for good measure. When he got up, he made sure to tell Golden’s daughter he was stronger than her daddy. All Golden could do was shake his head and smile.

— For a second straight practice, David Johnson put a hella-jump cut on rookie linebacker Haason Reddick. There’s no better teaching tool for Reddick at his new position than having to deal with Johnson on a daily basis, I suppose.

— Tyrann Mathieu, on one play in the pull-up-don’t-tackle practice, rolled past receiver Jaron Brown on a TD catch at the goal line. The Badger made sure everyone knew it wouldn’t have been a completion in a regular situation. “I would’ve knocked his teeth out,” Mathieu bellowed.

— It wasn’t the best practice for quarterback Drew Stanton. Carson Palmer had a rest day, and Stanton couldn’t seem to connect often enough, especially in the red zone drill. He was intercepted once by Patrick Peterson on a pass to Fitzgerald in the end zone, although it looked like Fitzgerald was looking for a fade and Stanton was looking back shoulder.

— The pass rushers-versus-offensive linemen one-on-one was interesting. I can see why they like rookie Will Holden. His footwork looked solid when he was going, locking up the third-stringers he saw. Robert Nkemdiche looked explosive. He and Frostee Rucker beat guard Evan Boehm on back-to-back tries at one point.

— The Cardinals were done early. Really early. The final horn blew at 3:48 p.m. I’m guessing they were efficient in what they wanted to get accomplished. I’m sure Arians will touch on it tomorrow.


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After practice: No hanging heads, and TWill pick

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2017 – 5:10 pm

Early in practice Tuesday, J.J. Nelson dropped a touchdown pass from Carson Palmer in the red zone. The wide receiver was clearly bothered, and walked slowly behind the line of scrimmage where the extra players stood — the second unit’s turn had come up — with his head down. Immediately, Palmer found him. What was said is unknown, but the message was clear, especially when Palmer imitated Nelson’s hanging head: Keep your head up, Palmer was saying, because it’s on to the next play.

Indeed, the next time Nelson was on the field, he caught a pass and Palmer — who this time was not the QB — made sure to seek out Nelson for the congratulatory slap. It’s one of the underrated parts of Palmer’s game, the leadership in such situations.

— It was an eventful practice. The defense was into the battles given that the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense faced off. Linebacker Markus Golden, who loves to talk, was talking quite a bit when the defense was winning its plays.

— The Cardinals slid rookie safety Budda Baker into the first unit in their dime package. One time, both he and Tyrann Mathieu blitzed. Afterward, Baker talked about how much he loved to blitz — another parallel between he and Mathieu.

— Phil Dawson easily drilled a 58-yard field goal among his attempts (without a miss).

— This is how you cultivate a fan base. After the first unit got through part of one period — and Patrick Peterson knew he’d have a few minutes on the sideline — he sent an equipment intern to the sideline where a man and his two boys were sitting. All had Peterson jerseys. The intern fetched the jerseys and took them to Peterson, who quickly signed them all. It was such a brief moment, but the fans were thrilled.

— Interestingly, quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich got to call some offensive plays into the walkie-talkie during one period. It really shouldn’t be a surprise. Bruce Arians likes to groom his young coaches, and getting Leftwich a few reps in the middle of a practice is a good start. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin called the plays in the Hall of Fame game, and I’m guessing he’ll do at least one other game in the preseason.

— The practice ended with a special situation: Offense on the defense’s 8-yard line, 6 seconds left, third down. The first unit started with David Johnson drawing a pass interference in the end zone and then a fade to Larry Fitzgerald for a TD. The second unit was stopped when rookie Chad Williams couldn’t hang on to a pass at the goal line. The third unit scored on a laser from Blaine Gabbert to Carlton Agudosi.

— Newcomer Tramon Williams also got his first interception as a Cardinal, playing zone and jumping on a Drew Stanton pass. “Was able to kind of see the whole picture,” Williams said. “Read the quarterback and just kind of came off. I had a good jump on the ball.”


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Hall of Fame game aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2017 – 11:31 pm

It’s late here in Canton — past 2 a.m. — so this is going to be an efficient post, in part because it’s the first of five preseason games and yeah, the preseason. That doesn’t mean things of importance can’t happen. You wish the head coach wasn’t saying “fingers crossed” about an injury to the rookie who was already showing he could be that dynamic return man you had been seeking.

But it was hard not to notice quarterback Blaine Gabbert as the top story of the evening. With all the caveats of preseason/the Cowboys only using three defensive starters, Gabbert looked very good in completing 11-of-14 passes for 185 yards. What does this mean? It means that Gabbert succeeded when, frankly, he should have. Beyond that, we’ll still see.

The last time a new Cardinals QB played so well in the preseason opener? (It just happened to be the last time a Cardinal was going into the Hall of Fame, Aeneas Williams.) Logan Thomas completed 11-of-12 passes against the Texans, for 113 yards and a TD. We all know how that turned out. Now, Gabbert is not Thomas. As much as Gabbert has struggled, his NFL career was still light years better. But it’s a reminder to hold off on grand pronouncements.

— Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Kurt Warner had his party Thursday night, and both Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Wilson made it over there to celebrate post-game.

— Logan really looked good as a return man. For a guy who hadn’t returned punts in college, he impressed.

— Tight ends Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah also made some plays. Momah in the passing game, grabbing three receptions. If he is able to play special teams like he did last year before getting hurt, Momah has a place on this roster.

— Andre Ellington scored on a three-yard run that showed some grit, fighting his way between the tackles. If you recall, Bruce Arians said Ellington had to run tougher. The TD run was a good sign.

— Rookie safety Budda Baker made some plays. Arians praised Haason Reddick too.

— Robert Nkemdiche took a step forward again, playing much of the time in the first half. He busted up a couple of plays. He says being healthy, he feels more like himself. Again, he’s going in the right direction.

— The backups who played the offensive line for Gabbert mostly held up (from left tackle, Wetzel, Kaleb Johnson, Toner, Bergstrom, John.) The second-unit pass rushers who started didn’t generate enough pressure.

— The Cardinals return to practice Saturday (it’s closed to the public). Meanwhile, I’ll be here in Canton, covering Warner’s induction. Look for my big Warner-years-in-Arizona story tomorrow (today, here in the Eastern time zone).

UPDATE: Some are wondering why I didn’t bring up the missed field goals, and it’s simple. Phil Dawson didn’t kick. The punters, Richie Leone and Matt Wile, kicked, each missed a field goal, but the punter will only be kicking when it counts if Dawson goes down in a game. That’s unlikely to happen.

 


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After practice: Peterson picks and some Smoke

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2017 – 5:59 pm

The day off seemed to do good things for some guys on the practice field Thursday (and it didn’t hurt that the humidity, which was a killer Tuesday, was way better.) Some key guys looked good, not the least of whom being wide receiver John Brown. Brown looks past his health concerns. He is blazing when he runs around out there. One play in particular stood out to me Thursday, a 31-yard route to the pylon in which Brown went up and made the catch of a Drew Stanton throw with his hands, Justin Bethel right there in tight coverage. (There’s a picture of it below.) A healthy and fast Smokey Brown is a good Smokey Brown.

— Patrick Peterson made a couple of picks, once in a one-on-one drill with Brown (which is so hard for a defensive back) and again in 7-on-7 and in both cases it looked like Peterson was the one running the route.

— Robert Nkemdiche blew up a running play in 11-on-11 and looked explosive in one-on-one drills. It’s one day — and yes, in the video, he’s going against raw rookie Dorian Johnson — but the defensive tackle is going in the right direction. Nkemdiche tossed the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Johnson to the ground during one matchup.

— WR Aaron Dobson pulled up after a play with some sort of left leg issue and he was not happy. It’ll be interesting to see if it is anything serious.

— RB Chris Johnson joined Carson Palmer with a day off. Tackle Jared Veldheer also wasn’t out there.

— There was a play in which the pass protection started to break down and quarterback Blaine Gabbert basically had to sling a pass without any ability to step into the throw — and it was a laser to a wide-open Chad Williams 18 yards down the field. Gabbert unquestionably has arm strength, that’s for sure.

— If there is any question about Larry Fitzgerald’s mindset, I leave you with this: Fitz makes a catch coming across the field. Wide open. He leans a bit forward and ends up falling to the ground. Fitz was angry. “Stay on your damn feet!” he barked at himself.


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Fitz plays for a ring and “wide open” CB spot

Posted by Darren Urban on July 23, 2017 – 12:02 pm

Some quick news and notes from media availability here on a quiet Sunday:

— Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald spoke for the first time. Of course, his future came up. He wants to win a Super Bowl. (Duh.) “That’s the only reason I’m playing at this point,” Fitzgerald said. He also said he doesn’t know what the future holds, and that he won’t make his decision about playing or not playing beyond 2017 based on what Carson Palmer or Bruce Arians do with their similar decisions.

(Full story coming right here).

— Arians said the No. 2 cornerback spot is “wide open” although he praised Justin Bethel’s play. Still a lot of speculation about whether the Cardinals bring in a veteran cornerback. It seems like Bethel — and Brandon Williams for that matter — will get a little time to show what they have.

— Along those lines, the two injured players from Saturday’s first practice were cornerbacks. Elie Bouka (ankle) and Jumel Rolle (hamstring) both were having MRIs Sunday. They both were hoping to be in that CB mix. We’ll see how much of a setback this is.

— On how No. 2 rookie Budda Baker has done early after missing all the offseason because of the school graduation rule: “He looks like a damn rookie.”

— Arians said he wants his defenders to get more hands on the ball after that first practice. He doesn’t want a rash of interceptions from his quarterbacks, mind you, but he would like a couple of picks a day.

— Lastly, there’s still a chance to get your picture in a Kickoff Magazine, the Cardinals’ official game program. Send your best photo of yourself, friends, or family wearing your favorite Cardinals gear. Submit the picture, your name and the town where you live to photos@cardinals.nfl.net. Fan photos will be selected based on size and photo quality.


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No Palmer or Fitz in Hall of Fame game

Posted by Darren Urban on July 22, 2017 – 1:02 pm

The Cardinals will have an extra preseason game this year but that doesn’t mean everyone will be playing in an extra game. Coach Bruce Arians said Saturday that quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will not play in the game against the Cowboys in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 3. Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby may not play. “I doubt Karlos plays,” Arians said. “We’ll see.”

It’s not a surprise, nor will it be if there are others who also do not play (for instance, all-everything running back David Johnson, whom Arians was not asked about.)

Arians did say the more-rested Palmer will play more this preseason, although he followed up by saying that just meant that instead of six plays in a a game, he might get 12.

Most of the main players usually don’t play in the preseason finale either, a point Arians reiterated Saturday about Palmer in particular.


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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2017 – 11:40 am

With about a month left before training camp (already?!?), it’s time to take a look at who I think the offensive starters will be come Sept. 10, when the Cardinals play the Lions in Detroit to begin the regular season. Could a training camp signing change things? Sure. I see more of a chance of that defensively than offensively.

My defensive thoughts are here. And after that, the blog posts will slow. Time off coming.

QB – Carson Palmer. You can’t get anywhere without a quarterback. Palmer finished strong in 2016. He’s a year older, yes, and no one is calling him a top-five QB. But he’s still very good when the offense functions well, and when his receivers don’t let him down.

RB – David Johnson. MVP-type player. Is he going to get 100 scrimmage yards every game? Maybe not, but he’s certainly going to have the opportunity. With his skills, and health, I’m not ruling out a 1,000-1,000 season.

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. After Bruce Arians had said more than once Fitz’s 100-catch days were behind him, Fitz has had two straight 100-catch seasons. Won’t be surprised to see him do it again. The question will be, is this his last season?

WR – Smokey Brown. He says he’s healthy. The Cards need him to be. Rookie Chad Williams may have an intriguing future, but this year, the Cardinals need the I-can-get-1,000-yards John Brown.

TE – Jermaine Gresham. So many have questioned his new large contract. But he’s been the best tight end the Cards have had since he showed up, and he does deliver some intangibles on the field this team can use.

TE – Troy Niklas. It’s a leap, yes, to assume Niklas will stay healthy. But every time, in the brief times, Niklas has been on the field, they like what he has brought. He’s not going to be a big pass-catcher. But he can block and he’ll play an important role – again, if he’s on the field.

LT – D.J. Humphries. He’s better suited for the left side. It’s tough for Jared Veldheer, but given ages and the future, this was all but predetermined when Humphries was drafted.

LG – Mike Iupati. Wasn’t as good in 2016 as he was in 2015, but I expect a rally. It’s important too – given his salary going forward, his age and the drafting of Dorian Johnson, the spotlight will be bright.

C – A.Q. Shipley. Showed the Cardinals he could start in this league. No reason to think he won’t again.

RG – Evan Boehm. I don’t see Johnson jumping into this job. Not yet. This is probably the second-most likely spot Keim could grab a vet, behind only No. 2 cornerback. But as it stands, Boehm is probably going to be out there.

RT – Jared Veldheer. Veldheer didn’t want to move from left to right tackle, but he did for the good of the team. Is there a transition to be made? Yes. Somehow, I don’t have much concern that Veldheer will make it work successfully.


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Kurt Warner, deciding to retire, and 201 pounds

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2017 – 11:16 am

Kurt Warner’s final season in the NFL was 2009, much to the chagrin of the Cardinals and their fans. Over the years, there have been some things left vague about Warner’s choice. There are still a segment of fans who are certain that nasty, nasty hit Warner absorbed in the season-ending playoff loss in New Orleans pushed Warner — especially since he said after that game he was going to take a little time to make his decision.

But the seeds were sown in 2008. Warner considered retiring after the Super Bowl, not because his contract was up but because of the toll the life was taking on his body. Not the hits, but the stress. As Warner prepares for his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in early August (and after I got a chance to talk to him for that story to come), Warner noted that he played the Super Bowl at 201 pounds (he was listed that year at 218).

By mid-season in 2009, Warner knew it was likely going to be his last year playing football, long before the end of the year.

“About halfway through ’09, I sat back and had thought about it a lot from the previous year as I was going through the season and just came to the conclusion that it had become such a job,” Warner said. “There had become such a high expectation and such a level of what I had to do for the team … week in and week out, that it was starting to affect me big picture. In the Super Bowl of ’08, I weighed in at 201 pounds, which I hadn’t been since I was a junior in college, and the stress and expectation of that was wearing on me physically. Not from the standpoint of what I could do between the lines, but big-picture-wise.

“Halfway through 2009, I just realized, ‘This is it. I’m just not willing to sacrifice that much anymore.’ Not very many people knew. My wife knew. Larry (Fitzgerald) knew — as he tried to convince me over the next eight weeks or so (to stay.)”

(Said Fitzgerald on the subject of trying to talk Warner into playing in 2010, “Of course. I knew what was to come after that. Selfishly, absolutely. I wasn’t foolish. I know in this business if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have much chance to win.”)

As for getting blasted by Saints defensive lineman Bobby McCray, “A lot of people look at the hit against New Orleans and said, ‘Yep, that is what caused him to retire.’ It didn’t at all. It might’ve been the perfect exclamation point on it, but I had known.”

So when Warner torched the Packers in the playoffs in what he considers his best game ever — five TD passes, four incompletions — he figured it would be his last game at University of Phoenix Stadium. He waved goodbye with that in mind.


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