It’s that time of year again, when the NFL Network compiles a list of the Top 100 players in the league (based on the previous year, mind you) and opening up the door to debate all the way through. The first Cardinal showed up on tonight’s season premiere when linebacker Chandler Jones came in at No. 85.
Jones made the list last year too, although he was coming off a year with the Patriots. He was 48th last year, following his 12½-sack year in New England. So he tumbled quite a bit even though he still had 11 sacks. My guess is that had more to do with how the team did rather than Jones’ play in particular. It’ll be interesting to see if teammate Markus Golden, who had 12½ sacks, makes this list at some point.
Two former Cardinals made the list tonight as well. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell, coming off his solid final season with the Cards, was actually No. 83 on the list. And one-time linebacker Lorenzo Alexander turned his career year with the Bills into No. 91 on the list.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Lorenzo Alexander, NFL Network
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Larry Fitzgerald did not catch a pass, and that was only the beginning of the brutality that was the Cardinals’ last trip to Buffalo.
It was way (way) back in Fitz’s rookie year of 2004. It was Denny Green’s first season. Anquan Boldin was coming back that day after missing the first six games with a knee injury suffered in training camp. Boldin had four catches for 50 yards. Fitz, alas, was shut out – the only time in his career he has not caught a pass in a game.
“That was probably the first time in my life I didn’t catch a ball,” said Fitzgerald, whose consecutive-games-with-a-catch streak is at 181. “Ever since I started playing football. There’s a first for everything.”
(Fitz did have a rushing attempt, for four yards.)
Of course, there weren’t many completions, period. Josh McCown completed just 9-of-24 passes, Drew Bledsoe just 8-of-17, as the teams played in nasty winds up to 30 miles an hour plus rain. It was a joy to watch. (It ended with a 38-14 Bills win).
The weather isn’t supposed to be bad Sunday. The temperatures will be mild, the sun is supposed to be out, the wind at a minimum. And of course, Fitz is playing with a team 12 years later that is light years better than that group that went to New York.
— No Evan Mathis this week, cut down by the dreaded turf toe. Earl Watford gets the start in his place. That’s an interesting development, in part because …
— Sunday will be a big test for right tackle D.J. Humphries. The defense played by the Ryan brothers usually features high-pressure from the outside. Do they go after Humphries? Goodwin said Humphries is doing better, although he noted there were mental lapses both against the Buccaneers and in practice this week. “He is always going to feel the pressure from me and coach (Arians),” Goodwin said.
Now you have Watford and Humphries on the right side of the line without Mathis.
— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on his reaction after hearing Bruce Arians accepting the blame for the zone-first defensive philosophy in the Patriots loss: “The first thing I thought was, we needed to tackle better in that game … our communication wasn’t good enough.”
“I love coach’s input,” Bettcher added. “He is one of the smartest men I have ever worked around. Not only is he the best head coach in the National Football League, he is a smart, smart football coach.”
— The Cardinals have yet to turn the ball over. Carson Palmer should have been picked a couple of times so far – the drop by Bucs CB Brent Grimes on the bad route by David Johnson last week the most memorable – but overall the QB has been good protecting the ball. In an offense like this, where the passing game will go down the field, a minimum of interceptions is impressive.
“Experience is one thing,” Palmer said in his explanation why. “You know when to take your shots. You know whether it’s the right type of third-down situation to be in, the right time of the game. You’ve got to be smart.
“(Interceptions are) going to happen. You try to avoid them as long as you can and when they do happen, you bounce back and go down and score on the next drive. That’s something that I pride myself on.”
— While Arians said the cornerback spot across from Patrick Peterson would be shared work-wise between Marcus Cooper and Brandon Williams, Bettcher said whoever had the better week of practice was going to earn the playing time Sunday.
— As we go, don’t discount the idea that newcomer Tharold Simon could also start to get some defensive snaps at cornerback.
— Former Cardinals linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, now 33 years old, is starting in Buffalo and has 1½ sacks and nine tackles in two games, plus a forced fumble and tackle for loss. “Lorenzo is playing really, really well,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “He’s got a sack and a half and he’s missed two or three. Just missed.”
— So far, Markus Golden is keeping up with the higher-profile Chandler Jones in sacks. Both have two in two games. Golden shrugged off his pace, but admitted he’ll be looking at it at season’s end.
“At the end of the year, of course, numbers mean something to everybody,” Golden said. “You want to do stuff people didn’t think you could do, so of course the numbers matter, but I feel like if you compete at the high level and play to win, you’ll get the numbers no matter what.
“Just got to keep hunting.”
Tags: Bills, Brandon Williams, Carson Palmer, Chandler Jones, D.J. Humphries, Earl Watford, Evan Mathis, James Bettcher, Larry Fitzgerald, Lorenzo Alexander, Marcus Cooper, Markus Golden
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It’s the fourth preseason game, and there is a short list of the things of which I’ll really focus upon when the Cardinals play the Broncos. Some are about the roster, some are about the lineup.
One of those things is the right tackle start for Earl Watford. It means so much both on the field and with the construction of the 53-man roster, because of the uncertainty with Bobby Massie and the rough camp of rookie D.J. Humphries.
To be fair to Humphries, and Bruce Arians acknowledged it this week, the idea was that Humphries was for the future, not necessarily 2015.
“We were hoping we had a full year to develop him,” Arians said, which speaks directly to the maturity issues Arians has talked about with Humphries, in addition to him being a natural left tackle trying to play the right side.
“But,” Arians added, “there is going to come a time when he’ll have to go out there and he better be ready.”
When you look how the roster is breaking down, and the very real possibility Humphries could be the backup swing tackle on Sundays, you understand Arians speaks the blunt truth. At least Arians added he thinks Humphries, over the last week or so, seems to have come to an understanding of the work ethic needed here. It’s going to take some time on Humphries, but Arians and OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin will work on him. And like Jonathan Cooper, it may take a little while, but there is confidence Humphries will get there.
The other places where I’ll be watching closely as the 53-man roster moves closer to reality (and I will have a post with my guess on that later today.):
— The first game action for running back Chris Johnson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon after hamstring injuries.
— The last push by three undrafted guys: Inside linebackers Alani Fua and Gabe Martin and cornerback Cariel Brooks.
— And of course, the play of quarterbacks Phillip Sims and Logan Thomas.
— While there are some roster spots that are in the balance, it is the Johnson/Weatherspoon/Watford spotlight that truly affects this team when it comes to playing the Saints in a little over a week. I think the Cardinals have managed to get into a place where if they do not have Johnson or Weatherspoon, they are prepared. I wasn’t sure they’d be able to get to that place with Weatherspoon, but Kevin Minter has had a good enough preseason that they are in a much better place there.
— In case you didn’t see it, recently released linebacker Lorenzo Alexander signed with the Raiders. Happy to see him find a job, and it’s back home — Alexander went to Cal Berkeley.
It’s about time to get the preseason over with, isn’t it?
Tags: Alani Fua, Broncos, Bruce Arians, Cariel Brooks, Chris Johnson, D.J. Humphries, Earl Watford, Gabe Martin, Kevin Minter, Logan Thomas, Lorenzo Alexander, Phillip Sims, Sean Weatherspoon
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When the strength and conditioning program begins for the Cardinals (and around most of the league) April 20, the tendency is to wonder, “Who isn’t there?” Then becomes the rash of “Remember, it’s only voluntary” answers.
(The teams with new head coaches can begin sooner.)
As the years have gone on and teams have hoped that their players would show up to such voluntary work, many contracts have been drawn up with workout bonuses attached. For a pretty good chunk of change, the players just have to come to a high percentage of the voluntary workout dates. The Cardinals are no different.
A list of the players on the active roster that have workout bonuses. (NT Alameda Ta’amu has a workout-like bonus, but that money is tied to making weight, not just showing up to work):
P Dave Zastudil $270,000
DE Calais Campbell $250,000
QB Drew Stanton $250,000
LB Sean Weatherspoon $250,000
S Rashad Johnson $150,000
DT Corey Peters $150,000
LB Matt Shaughnessy $125,000
CB Patrick Peterson $100,000
LB Lorenzo Alexander $100,000
S Tyrann Mathieu $50,000
C/G A.Q. Shipley $25,000
C/G Ted Larsen $25,000
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Calais Campbell, Corey Peters, Dave Zastudil, Drew Stanton, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, offseason, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Sean Weatherspoon, Ted Larsen, Tyrann Mathieu
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It was becoming pretty clear the Cardinals were going to move on from linebacker Sam Acho once he hit free agency, but that became official Wednesday when Acho signed a one-year contract with the Bears. Acho flashed as a rookie in 2011 with seven sacks, although never quite found that pass-rush level again. His 2013 was cut way short after he broke his leg. Last season he had 46 tackles and one sack — in the finale — in a reserve role.
There is little question about Acho the human being, however. A better person you won’t find. Any interaction with a fan — and he made sure to do that plenty — led to that fan being his fan. It was nearly impossible to do otherwise. I happened to talk with him a bit at a Suns’ game last month and at the time — right after the initial binge of free agency — Acho said he was probably going to lay low for a bit. At that point, it seemed like his time as a Cardinal had passed, unless he might return post-draft had the team not found a replacement. Now, the Cardinals need to work on building their outside linebacking corps, with the only ones under contract right now Lorenzo Alexander, Alex Okafor, Matt Shaughnessy and LaMarr Woodley. Kareem Martin will also get work there this offseason, but taking one with in the first round of the draft remains a strong possibility.
You can read the farewell statement Acho wrote right here.
Acho, meanwhile, will leave a lot of happy memories with fans in Arizona, like this little girl after a Flagstaff training camp practice in 2012.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Bears, Kareem Martin, LaMarr Woodley, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, Sam Acho
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See that photo at the bottom? It’s a picture from the coin toss before the Monday night season opener against the Chargers. It is also the last time the Cardinals’ captains will have all played together in a game in 2014. It feels like the role has been cursed, right?
I mean, punter Dave Zastudil was already hurt in that game — the only reason he was active was to hold on field goals, while Drew Butler did the punting. Zastudil punted in one game (Denver, last weekend) before going on IR with his persistent groin injury, ending his season. Palmer, as we all know, has been hurting since the Chargers game and there is still uncertainty he can come back. Calais Campbell is now down with a knee injury, something that’s been at the forefront of the NFL world for a couple of days.
Wait, am I automatically jinxing Lorenzo Alexander now? (That’s rhetorical, folks. I don’t believe in such things.) Besides, Alexander got his bad luck last year when he got hurt, so …
Still, you have to like how coach Bruce Arians approaches the situation. When Darnell Dockett went on IR, he stayed involved. While hurt, Zastudil and Palmer have still been serving as captains. I can only guess Campbell will continue to do the same, and Zastudil too. “Dave is going to be very, very involved, like Darnell,” Arians said. “He’ll go out for the coin toss and do the things that captains do.”
And at some point, the Cardinals are hoping the other three captains are out there ready to play together on Sundays. Sooner rather than later.
Tags: Calais Campbell, captains, Carson Palmer, Darnell Dockett, Dave Zastudil, Lorenzo Alexander
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The fourth preseason game is what it is. Teams are leery about playing anyone of any starting importance, because whatever little you might gain in a few more game reps is highly outweighed by the opportunity to get injured. How the actual game plays out — like the Cardinals going against the Chargers — means nothing. This one may mean even less, since the two teams have to play their very next game against each other. No reason to show anyone anything. At all.
That being said, there are some things to watch in the game tomorrow night, thanks to injuries, a new quarterback and a couple of roster spots that look like they could go either way:
— Logan Thomas is going to get to play the whole game, for the first time in the NFL and likely for the last time in a long time. The rookie fourth-round quarterback looked really good in his debut against Houston, he looked less comfortable against Cincinnati. He gets 60 minutes now, though. Bruce Arians said he just wants to see Thomas be efficient and take care of the ball. Thomas admitted he already has become more settled now since arriving in Arizona, and he knows he’s about to sit and not play (and really, not practice much either) for a long time. He has the right attitude. There’s really nothing on the line since he’s a lock to be on this roster. Take the pressure off, and let’s see what he can do.
— Very curious to see if S Tyrann Mathieu plays. I have long felt that the Cardinals are OK in the secondary to not have any reason to want/need to rush Mathieu back. I don’t think they will rush him. The question is how comfortable/confident Mathieu is to get back into live action. This is about mental as much as physical by now.
— The other guys coming off injuries all are also worth watching. We know the story of Jonathan Cooper at this point, and dealing with his turf toe. The Cardinals are probably best suited to deal with his recovery too with the way Ted Larsen is playing. The team needs Kevin Minter at inside linebacker, and we will see how he can perform. Minter seemed very confident earlier this week. That’s a good sign. Like Mathieu, you want to see nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu in real game action — especially where he plays and how there are always bodies down by your legs — a scary thought for a guy coming off a torn ACL. Again, mental as much as physical.
— As for the battles for rosters spots, these are the ones I see out there (and the ones to watch in the game): The backup tackle spot between Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter, both who figure to start. Potter will be on the left and Sowell on the right Thursday, but it’ll be surprising if both can make the cut. The special teams/cornerback slot with Teddy Williams and Bryan McCann. It figures one will be in, the other out. McCann is a little more polished as a cornerback, but Williams definitely can be more physical. This comes down to who they like better for special teams. And then there are the many linebackers who seem to be on the bubble. Desmond Bishop. Alex Okafor. Lorenzo Alexander. Marcus Benard. Glenn Carson too. You’ve only got so many spots. Pay attention to their play.
— Finally, reports are that the Cardinals will at least work out veteran linebacker James Harrison. Sounds like it’ll be less about anything immediate and instead seeing what is available. Veteran defensive lineman Tommy Kelly may be the same situation. Something to keep in mind this time of year, signing a veteran after Week One means the salary is not guaranteed, so there will be some vets signed after the first game around the league — especially those who might not have a lot left in the tank.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Alex Okafor, Bradley Sowell, Bryan McCann, Chargers, Desmond Bishop, Glenn Carson, James Harrison, Jonathan Cooper, Kevin Minter, Logan Thomas, Lorenzo Alexander, Marcus Benard, Nate Potter, Ted Larsen, Teddy Williams, Tyrann Mathieu
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Tyrann Mathieu was a little irritated with himself after his first practice Thursday in 11-on-11 work, lamenting a dropped interception. Then again, the safety got to move around well, in the estimation of coach Bruce Arians, and he even got a couple of hits in during a non-hitting practice, knocking down Ted Ginn and Andre Ellington after catches.
“I wasn’t really trying to hit them, but I put a little weight on,” Mathieu said with a chuckle, a nod to the “11 or 12” pounds he added in the offseason so he could get stronger.
Mathieu admitted he felt a little lucky he wasn’t booted out of the work. “I thought (Arians) was going to throw me out of practice,” Mathieu said, smiling again. “He doesn’t usually let people hit Andre.” (That hit is pictured below.)
Better yet, Mathieu said he wasn’t feeling sore and there has been no swelling. Arians said the status of Mathieu and fellow just-off-the-PUP defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu could still conceivably play Sunday against the Bengals, but give that neither will have even gone through a full practice (they aren’t expected to this afternoon either) it seems very unlikely the Cards would expose either this week.
— Along those lines, linebacker Kevin Minter (pectoral) and guard Jonathan Cooper (toe) would be game-day decisions, Arians said, but neither are practicing today. I can’t see either playing Sunday. Arians said next week — a very short week with the final preseason game Thursday — would be crucial. If they don’t play in the preseason finale, Arians said, he can’t see them playing in the Monday night opener.
— Linebacker John Abraham does have a chance to play against the Bengals. Nothing set in stone yet, however.
— Tackle Max Starks (ankle) will return to practice today and has a chance to play Sunday. Interestingly, Bradley Sowell — who had been struggling earlier in camp — has made “really good progress” the last two weeks. It is a battle between Starks and Sowell for the backup swing-tackle spot on the roster.
— Kenny Demens is the inside linebacker starter with Larry Foote while Minter is sidelined. Lorenzo Alexander has actually been working more at outside linebacker again, Arians said.
— After Carson Palmer starts Sunday, Drew Stanton will come in at the start of the third quarter or possibly sooner, Arians said. Logan Thomas will quarterback the fourth quarter. Ryan Lindley is not scheduled to play and it’s clear he is behind Thomas.
Tags: Drew Stanton, Jonathan Cooper, Kenny Demens, Kevin Minter, Larry Foote, Logan Thomas, Lorenzo Alexander, Max Starks, Tyrann Mathieu
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It’s preseason, and rarely do things matter less in the NFL than a touchdown scored in the waning minutes of the second oreseason game. The reality is almost every player on the field at that point in the game won’t be in the NFL in a month.
In the grand scheme of things, Zach Bauman’s six-yard lateral run (?) of the loose ball batted backward by center John Estes was the play of Saturday night, right? It’s the kind of play that might’ve lived forever had it happened in a regular season game. It was fourth down, the Cardinals were going for it down three on the Minnesota 6-yard line because there is no way Bruce Arians was going to go to overtime in the preseason, and then Estes’ snap didn’t connect with quarterback Ryan Lindley. The ball rolled around. Estes, in the officials’ eyes, batted it backward, although oblong as it is, the ball took a turn toward the Vikings’ goal line, and Bauman scooped it up and improbably scored.
“Saw a play I haven’t seen in 22 years,” Arians said, before deadpanning, “that touchdown … that was designed.”
Even Lindley was willing to have fun with it.
“You know when we ran (at practice) and coach went off the field?” Lindley said, referring to the fight-induced punishment Thursday. “That’s really what we did, we got the defense some scout team reps, and we let it ride.”
For those wondering, here was the official comment from referee Craig Wrolstad:
“The ball was snapped, it was a backwards pass. The snap is considered the backwards pass. Any backwards pass can be advanced by any team, any direction, on any down. It wasn’t a fumble because the snap was never possessed by any of the players. The ball was snapped, it rolled around, it was knocked around a couple times, nobody ever had control of the ball. Nobody ever had control of the ball, so nobody ever had possession, so it was not a fumble.”
Wild. It worked out for Bauman too, clearly.
Tomorrow my mom birthday and I told her I was gonna score a TD for her!
— Zach Bauman (@FranchiseBAUMAN) August 17, 2014
Some other quick thoughts before I try to actually get some sleep on this flight home:
— The Cardinals know they have to be better on special teams. This goes beyond who the kicker might be. The coverage wasn’t good – Arians said as much – and Lorenzo Alexander knows it needs to improve quickly.
“They probably have one of the premier return units in the league, but as a cover unit, we definitely have to step up and put our defense in better field positions, and also create turnovers,” Alexander said, adding “we still have a lot of moving parts, lot of young guys, but it’s no excuse. Special teams is about want-to, effort and heart.”
— The only injury Arians knew of was tackle Max Starks, who tweaked the same left ankle that has been giving him trouble.
— Newly signed linebacker Desmond Bishop wasn’t supposed to dress but he did and he played. He flashed a couple of times too. The veteran was a very good player before he had serious injuries the past two years. His progress bears watching.
— The starting defense did OK. I think they’d like to do better. I thought Calais Campbell was effective early, and I thought linebacker Larry Foote was too. That group is going to jump a level when DC Todd Bowles starts game-planning.
— It was too bad the crazy Bauman play didn’t win the game, but the third unit defenders didn’t have a good night. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have been in the position late anyway, at least not how they got there. I thought the long pass interference drawn by receiver Kevin Ozier to set up the Cards’ final TD wasn’t a good call.
— The 19-play drive that scored a touchdown to open the third-quarter was a thing of beauty in terms of possession (and in terms of a preseason game and running the clock, but that’s me being selfish). It ate up 10:06 on the clock, and 14 of the plays were runs. No runs for more than seven yards and the Cards needed to convert a couple of fourth downs, but it was an exercise in being physical.
That’s enough for now.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Desmond Bishop, John Estes, Larry Foote, Lorenzo Alexander, Ryan Lindley, Vikings, Zach Bauman
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The Cardinals have filled one of their three empty roster spots, and as Bruce Arians promised, it’s with someone the team hopes can be more than just a camp body. Veteran inside linebacker Desmond Bishop arrived Thursday with a couple of weeks to try and make enough of an impression to stick around.
Bishop was drafted by the Packers in 2007 and won a Super Bowl while in Green Bay in 2010. But his time with the Packers ended after he missed the entire 2012 season following a preseason hamstring injury that needed surgery. He signed a one-year contract with the Vikings last season, but in the fourth game he played for Minnesota he tore his ACL, ending his season. In his last full season, Bishop had more than 100 tackles and five sacks.
So, with that background of very few football games played in two years, Bishop comes to Arizona. After cutting inside linebacker Ernie Sims, the Cardinals could use more numbers inside, especially with starter Kevin Minter nursing an injured pectoral muscle. The top four inside linebackers have been Minter, Larry Foote, Lorenzo Alexander and Kenny Demens. That’s the group Bishop probably needs to crack to stick around.
It’ll be the second linebacker the Cards get today, since John Abraham is expected to arrive after missing camp thus far for personal reasons.
Tags: Desmond Bishop, John Abraham, Kenny Demens, Kevin Minter, Larry Foote, Lorenzo Alexander, Roster, training camp
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