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Blogs

Lasting thoughts from the first

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2014 – 10:54 am

The first Cardinals draft I covered as a beat guy was back in 2001, which just so happened to be the highest pick the Cards have had since I have been around the team — second overall. That’s 13 drafts overall and 14 first-round picks. As the Cards get closer to this year’s draft (jeez, is it ever going to get here?) I thought I’d hit the first-round picks I’ve seen, with both my initial thoughts at the time and what hindsight has brought.

2001: T Leonard Davis. It was a no-brainer. Davis was a sure thing, taken right after Michael Vick. He’d be the 10-year left tackle the Cardinals sought since Lomas Brown had left. Bigg (he went by the nickname “Big” and at some point, started adding an extra “g”) was just that, a mammoth man. Sure, the Cards decided to play him at guard his first season, but that was so he could get used to the game. Dave McGinnis even brought myself and Kent Somers to his office one day to show us Davis manhandling a couple of defenders. I remember him totally rag-dolling Bears safety Mike Brown on one play. Problem was, he never really panned out as a left tackle, even though Denny Green insisted on shoe-horning him there. He was a better guard, and the Cards weren’t going to break the bank on a guard, so he later got big money from the Cowboys. And made the Pro Bowl. As a guard.

2002: DT Wendell Bryant. What I really remember is hearing how then-defensive line coach Joe Greene had been so impressed with Bryant the player and the person during a workout up in Wisconsin. Uh, yeah, not so much. Bryant was a holdout until the regular season started of his rookie year, and he never climbed out of that hole. A total bust.

2003: DE Calvin Pace and WR Bryant Johnson. Ahh, the everyone-assumed-Terrell-Suggs-was-coming-to-the-Cards draft. This was the most surprising first round. The Cards traded down from No. 6 overall, thinking in part they could get DE Jerome McDougle. The Eagles jumped to No. 15 to get McDougle, and the Cards reached for Pace at 17 and then took Johnson at 18. Pace ended up a decent player, although he didn’t really hit his stride until Ken Whisenhunt showed up. This was a thank-goodness-for-Anquan-Boldin-in-the-second-round class.

2004: WR Larry Fitzgerald. And to think, if Josh McCown’s pass falls incomplete, would it have been Eli Manning? Or would Denny Green have made sure Fitz was No. 1 overall?

2005: CB Antrel Rolle. This was pretty straight-forward. Rolle was considered a top-10 talent, the Cards needed a corner. The problem was Rolle came into the league with most assuming he’d be better at safety. He was.

2006: QB Matt Leinart. Green said when the pick was made that Leinart falling to the Cards at 10 was really a “gift from heaven.” Seems really silly now. But it wasn’t at the time. (The Cards likely would have taken Jay Cutler, who went No. 11, if Leinart had been off the board.) Truth be told I thought it was a good pick, and I was convinced he would be that QB the Cards needed after his first two starts, come-from-ahead losses — but not his fault — to Kansas City and Chicago (“We let ‘em off the hook!”) Time proved I was way wrong. But it allowed Kurt Warner’s rebirth, so there’s that.

2007: T Levi Brown. The Cards wanted a left tackle. Joe Thomas was already taken. The Cards already had Edgerrin James, so Adrian Peterson didn’t make enough sense. And I’ll move on.

– 2008: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC was odd. He was raw. He was good. He frustrated sometimes, going from Pro Bowl talent to a guy who wouldn’t pay attention in stretches. But it was the right call. If only he hadn’t been the price for Kevin Kolb …

– 2009: RB Beanie Wells: Beanie was never really healthy. A prime example of why teams don’t look to running backs early anymore.

– 2010: NT Dan Williams. Williams has been a starter and has improved. He forms a nice tandem with Alameda Ta’amu. Funny, the biggest thing I remember of when the Cards took him was that Tim Tebow was picked right before him — virtually eliminating any chance he was going to get mentioned on national TV broadcasts.

– 2011: CB Patrick Peterson. Yeah, a good pick. Obvious, but good.

– 2012: WR Michael Floyd. He’s turned into a good player in a short time. He wasn’t the left tackle everyone said they wanted, but he was better than the tackles on the board.

– 2013: G Jonathan Cooper. Coop should turn out to be a wise choice. If any of the big three tackles had been left at No. 7, the Cards probably would have nabbed one, but GM Steve Keim was about best players, and he believes Cooper was that.

BiggUSE

 


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The depth chart in May

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2013 – 9:57 am

Trying to figure out the depth chart in the offseason is always a sketchy thing, especially early on in the process. What happens in May can impact where the team is in September, but that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the lineup.

A quick story (and those of you who remember back to 2004, this may ring a bell): In Denny Green’s first offseason after taking over the Cardinals, he came in and made a host of changes right away, which you would expect, one being benching long-time left tackle L.J. Shelton and taking guard Leonard Davis (the same Davis who would later become a Pro Bowl guard in Dallas) and putting him at left tackle because, as Green put it, you can’t take a lineman No. 2 in the draft and pay him left tackle money to be a guard. So they made him a tackle.

That wasn’t unexpected. But at the end of OTAs that summer (in those days, minicamp was first, before OTAs, whereas now minicamp is the last part of the offseason), Green made a big deal about his depth chart. The Cardinals called an impromptu press conference on the final OTA day (most media would not have attended). First, Green called his team together and made a point of announcing his starting lineup heading into training camp — remember, the vets were about to disperse until then. He then did the same in front of the media.

Most spots were as expected. Two moves caught the attention at that point. One was the naming of Quentin Harris as free safety instead of Dexter Jackson. Jackson was coming off a six-interception year in his first season as a Card, but he had some back issues and more importantly, he and Green didn’t see eye to eye at all. Jackson was gone before the season started (and with all due respect to Q, now the team’s director of pro scouting, he was mostly a place-holder, starting the first three games that year before being benched for Ifeanyi Ohalete.) The other big deal at the time was Green naming Emmitt Smith the starting running back, a surprise to everyone (including Emmitt) after Marcel Shipp — now interning as a Cards’ coach — had run first-string the entire offseason until that point.

One move that didn’t bring any attention. Pete Kendall was named starting center.

That was a big deal six weeks later, when Kendall — who again, hadn’t been on the field since that day Green named him a starter — was cut on report day for training camp. Green said it was because the Cards needed a change; It was likely because Green thought Kendall had said something to the NFLPA about breaking rules in OTAs, which led to a league punishment. Whatever the reason, it was a drastic upheaval. (Alex Stepanovich was not Pete Kendall.)

Now, Bruce Arians is not Denny Green. I wouldn’t expect anything like the Kendall situation. But things are in flux. Jonathan Cooper is running second string right now. But yes, I expect him to be the first-string left guard sooner rather than later. Will it be by minicamp? By the start of training camp? By mid-preseason? We’ll see. Is Daryl Washington running second string as a message or because they want Karlos Dansby ready for those first four games? We’ll see. The same goes for other spots (like cornerback. Or outside linebacker). There is a long way to go before September rolls around and games count. One thing to keep in mind: Arians has reiterated a couple of times that he sees “starters” in all his different packages, offense and defense. It gives you a sense of how he views the depth chart.


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Saturday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2012 – 3:30 pm

Considering the Cardinals are on a three-game losing streak, the mood was, dare I say, pretty good in the locker room this week. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Larry Fitzgerald – I mean, don’t get me wrong, no one is happy with the slide. I’m not sure if it’s the juice provided when the 49ers come to town, or “Monday Night Football,” or what. Clearly, though, the Cards seem in a good place mentally. Certainly there isn’t a vibe of being overwhelmed against the Niners. Not that there would be – this is a team they face twice a season. Familiarity usually takes worry off the table.

The Cardinals say their minds are in the right place. It feels that way.

“It’s going to be one of those backyard fights where your Mom can’t get in it, no referees,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “It’ll be blow for blow. Who will break first? If you can bend, you bend to the max. They’re a physical football team. We’re a physical football team. We’ll see where it goes.”

– The 49ers have the top-ranked pass defense in the league. That doesn’t seem to bode well for getting the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, but then again, the Niners had a great pass defense last year and Fitz blew up against them out at University of Phoenix Stadium (7 catches, 149 yards). Quarterback John Skelton also ended up with a pretty good day, with three TD passes after coming in in relief of a concussed Kevin Kolb. The key, of course, will be keeping Skelton upright under the San Francisco pass rush. That will be a key every week with this team, obviously.

– Speaking of Skelton, he said the ankle he hurt in the opener is “not hindering me in any way.”

– And speaking of Fitz, he knows the questions are coming every time he has a game without many stats – we went through it early last year too – about getting him the ball. Fitzgerald had a pretty good stretch of four straight games of producing before Minnesota, whose defense was all about shutting him down, it seemed. Right now, Fitz is on pace for 91 catches, 1,049 yards and 7 touchdowns.

But this is a different Fitz that 2006 too.

“My pursuit is the same,” Fitzgerald said. “I work hard. I try to improve on my skills daily and be the best I can. But I want to win. Some days it might be one (catch) for four (yards) like it was in New England. I wouldn’t trade 10-for-230 and a touchdown in a loss as opposed to one-for-five in a win. I have changed that way. But I still want to be productive and help my team.”

– Remember former Cardinals guard-turned-tackle-turned-Pro Bowl guard in Dallas, Leonard Davis? Good old “Bigg,” who left as a free agent just as Whisenhunt was coming in, plays for San Francisco these days. He gets work in certain packages and is used as a sixth offensive lineman.

“He’s been fantastic, really one of my personal favorite guys to be around,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He’s been good on Sundays too.”

– Patrick Peterson will likely get a lot of Michael Crabtree Monday, since Crabtree is the 49ers best receiver. But the Cards’ cornerback is most looking forward to meeting Randy Moss, who plays – although not much – for the Niners.

“I can’t wait,” Peterson said. “I remember being so young, being in high school, watching him make those one-hand catches. I used to run around the neighborhood (saying) I want to ‘Moss’ somebody.”

– Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling will try to follow up his first 100-yard game with another productive outing, something the Cards need. Stephens-Howling, who is playing under a one-year tender offer after restricted free agency, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. General manager Rod Graves said in training camp the Cardinals would like to sign Stephens-Howling to an extension, but thus far talks have been slow.

Stephens-Howling said he’s doing the best he can to forget about it but “you’re human.”

“We just wish something could get done,” the Hyphen said. “I want to stay a Cardinal. But I have to play on Monday, so that’s my focus.”

– Stephens-Howling has enjoyed getting to do a little more at running back with the injuries to Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, and acknowledged his role was “something else we’d have to talk about.”

But “I love playing my role, and whatever they ask me to do I’m going to do,” he said. “But I’m taking it one game at a time, one week at a time. I look at the game plan, see what (packages) I am in for, and go from there. And that’s what I’m going to put my heart into.”

– So far, Peterson’s follow-up to his electrifying rookie season returning punts has been anything but. His long return is 26 yards and he has averaged only 8.8 yards a return as teams have clearly made preventing him from breaking one a priority. Against the Vikings, Chris Kluwe kept kicking high punts short and Peterson had to scramble just to catch them.

“Now teams are scheming, they kind of want to hand pick when they’ll give me the opportunity to return the ball,” Peterson said. “I have to continue being patient.”

– This is a big one. Obviously. If the Cardinals have shown anything over the past couple years, it’s that they are very tough at home. They need to make that matter Monday.


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Revisionist History: Draft Daze

Posted by Darren Urban on June 17, 2011 – 3:24 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

For this installment, we check out what was being said on the day some current Cards were drafted …

– Back in 2001, Adrian Wilson was kind of an afterthought on the first day of the draft. Back then, there were two days of the draft, with rounds one through three on Saturday. The Cardinals had the second pick overall, so offensive lineman Leonard Davis was the BIG story. The Cards also took defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch – who turned out to be a pretty good player, but after two blown-out knees and a coaching change sent him packing from Arizona – and cornerback Michael Stone. I wonder how A-Dub feels when he thinks how the great Michael Stone has a better draft pedigree than him.

Wilson was a surprise pick in some ways, because the Cards needed defensive line help more. He was raw. The Cards even briefly considered using him at cornerback at the time, believe it or not. I love the jump headline – “Could be a keeper for the Cardinals.” Uh, yeah.

– There was no question that first day of the 2004 draft turned out awesome – Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett – but that was what was thought at the time, too. While Fitz was celebrated, looking at Dockett’s quotes from the day resonate. “I’m going to be the next Anquan Boldin,” Dockett said, referencing Boldin’s outplaying of his draft status. And he was “disgusted” that teams passed on him before he went as the first pick of the third round. Turns out Darnell was right.

– The Cards traded up in 2007 to get Alan Branch, although it seems that it took until the end of 2009 and 2010 for Branch to really hit his stride. Of course, the big story of 2007 was the decision to take Levi Brown fifth overall (part one and part two here), but at the time, it didn’t seem as big of a deal as hindsight has portrayed. Of course, that draft was also highlighted by the late pick of Steve Breaston. It’s funny to see I thought Breaston’s big competition to make the team was LeRon McCoy.

– Then there was 2008, when the Cards got DRC and Calais Campbell on the first day. Apparently, one kidney and a small school wasn’t going to scare off the Cards from Rodgers-Cromartie, and his speed didn’t hurt. All things considered, that’s been a good pick – although we all understand DRC’s need for a big 2011.


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The free agency effect

Posted by Darren Urban on June 9, 2011 – 4:13 pm

So I was looking over this ESPN.com article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”

That’s usually how it goes.

The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.

Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?

  • 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
  • 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
  • 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
  • 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
  • 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
  • 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
  • 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
  • 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
  • 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely

Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).

Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.


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Fitz gets the guys together

Posted by Darren Urban on April 12, 2011 – 3:04 pm

A story today from Kent Somers about how Larry Fitzgerald organized a workout today for 20 Cards over at Arizona State University. Kent doesn’t list everyone involved, but among those there were Rex Hadnot, Tim Hightower, Lyle Sendlein, Clark Haggans, Max Hall and John Skelton. With no way to come to the facility now in lieu of the lockout, this was always a possibility. The day after the season, Sendlein even talked about the need to work on their own.

Kent notes only eight guys were there Monday. Giving a “lineup” of who is there and who isn’t is always dicey. These things are even more voluntary than the regular “voluntary” workouts of an offseason. (Side note: I remember one year covering the team for the East Valley Tribune when I did a story on the opening of voluntary conditioning work and got specific about a few guys who were there and a few guys who were not. I noted big tackle Leonard Davis wasn’t there. The next day, Davis was on the field when I went outside to make a phone call. “I’m here, Darren,” Davis yelled out. “I’m here Darren.” He wasn’t mad. I don’t think. But he made his point.)

Always good to see some of the players be willing to do such things. Even better to see Fitz spearheading it. (Read Kent’s piece for a few Fitz quotes). Of course, I’d love for labor peace to come sooner rather than later, so I could write some of these stories myself. For now, though, it’s important. We still could see a lot of Skelton-to-Fitzgerald this season. Better to have them work on that timing now.


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Cowboys aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2010 – 1:33 am

The penalty flag was thrown, and suddenly, I thought of Leonard Davis. No, not because big Len was on the other sideline for the Cowboys. Because I remember a sweaty September day at Sun Devil Stadium in 2005, when the Cards had reached the Rams’ 5-yard line down five points in the waning seconds. A comeback win was within reach – except Davis was called for a false start with seven seconds left. The Cards had no timeouts left, and by rule, that meant a 10-second runoff. It meant a very difficult way to lose a chance to win.

So that’s what I was thinking when the flag came out Saturday night, when the Cards had finally made it to the Dallas 25-yard line down two points. A spike, a penalty, oh God. I wasn’t the only one. Players were headed to the locker room, for goodness sake.

QB John Skelton said he didn’t know what was going on, deferring to center Lyle Sendlein, who was already barking at the officials. Sendlein said he didn’t have anything to offer other than insist there were more than the 10 seconds that were displayed on the stadium clock. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he was planning to argue the same.

You can’t hear anything down on the field, although I did hear “10-second runoff.” Turns out all the ref was saying was that there would not be a runoff. Since all the players were set on the illegal formation (and not, in Davis’ long-ago case, a false start) it just cost the Cards five yards. The runoff is to prevent a team from having a penalty in order to stop the clock. Since the Cards did pull off a proper spike – again, with everyone set, even if they weren’t in the right spots – it didn’t cost them time.

And for Jay Feely, what’s another five yards?

– Holder Ben Graham did a great job pulling down a slightly high snap on the game-winning field goal.

– If you would’ve told me the Cards would win when Larry Fitzgerald would have one catch and Steve Breaston none, I’d have laughed. Fitz insisted he wasn’t frustrated. Hmmm. I am going to guess he was trying to be nice when he said that. That said, I know he was thrilled to get the win and the frustration eased considerably when Feely’s field goal split the uprights.

– Watching the replay of the game right now, the most amazing part of Fitz’s late catch is that he was drilled – helmet to helmet? – on a first-down incompletion three plays earlier and cameras caught Fitz blinking his eyes and shaking his head, as if to clear cobwebs.

– In terms of Breaston, a very odd situation. I thought there was a chance he was hurt at some point, enough so that they limited his snaps. But no. Whisenhunt said he used rookie Andre Roberts more because of blocking schemes and “we try to spell (Breaston)” more, but again, it was odd to see Breaston on the sideline and Roberts in. Roberts had a very good game, but again, just struck me as odd. The free-agent-to-be didn’t have one pass thrown his way.

– The Cardinals had a season-high five sacks, getting a decent amount of pressure when they just rushed four. For a second straight game, they used a lot of four-down linemen. It was generally effective. I’m sure it was in part because Joey Porter was out and the team didn’t have a plethora of trustworthy linebackers for a 3-4 alignment, so they tinkered. But it worked.

– Here’s a stat I heard on the radio on the way home tonight: Since 2008, there had been 75 pass plays in the NFL on fourth down needing at least 15 yards for a first down. The number of conversions? Eight. Kinda glad John Skelton didn’t know that before throwing the dart to Fitz.

– I mentioned this a couple of times on Twitter, but given the grief running back Beanie Wells has gotten for his blocking, the excellent blitz pickup he provided on the 74-yard TD pass from Skelton to Roberts was key.

– That was the Cards’ ninth TD pass. They have nine non-offensive return TDs. The battle will go down to the final game.

– DRC and Greg Toler get Pick-6s. Amazing. It’s been simple this year really. Five wins – at St. Louis, Oakland, New Orleans, Denver, Dallas. Except for the Rams game, and in that one the defense forced a bunch of turnovers, the Cards win because of those return TDs.

That’s enough. It’s 1:30 a.m. I’ve outlasted Christmas. But what a Christmas for the Cards.


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