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Friday before the Texans

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2010 – 9:58 am

Ahh, the preseason. Finally a game to watch, a game from which to make judgments instead of practice after practice.

But how much can be judged? That’s always the big question. Inevitably, we will be told that what we saw as media and fans wasn’t enough to know what’s what – like Matt Leinart’s bad game in Oakland in 2008 that, according to coaches, didn’t torpedo his chances to start.

But it is football. So the top five things I hope to see are:

— Leinart taking control. It’s early and Leinart’s playing time will be limited. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he’s looking for intangible things as much as tangible, like the way Leinart works the huddle. Makes sense to me. Playing quarterback is about talent, but it’s as much about making guys believe they can follow you to victories. That’s what Leinart had in college (and, I believe, what he had when he first showed up in Arizona).

And yes, I want to see how Derek Anderson performs too, but I think this week, it’s mostly about Matt.

— Toler playing well on an island. In this vanilla-type of game, Greg Toler (and the other cornerbacks) will have a chance at one-on-one coverage. It’s not the easiest baptism, but necessary. Toler needs to make a play or two and take a step forward toward a starting job that, in my opinion, the Cards need him to grab hold.

— Who makes an impact at linebacker. The coaches like what Paris Lenon has done so far. But can rookie Daryl Washington avoid some rookie mistakes? Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are givens. But can Cody Brown look as improved against another team as he has against some of the Cards’ second-stringers? What outside linebackers hoping to make the team – a Stevie Baggs, a Mark Washington, for instance – can do enough to earn further consideration?

— Who can handle the bright lights. Wide receiver Stephen Williams has played well at camp, and quarterback Max Hall has impressed (and at this point, has clearly outplayed John Skelton). But that’s just in practice. When the lights go on, the stakes change. They and a bunch of other younger guys need to prove the play can carry over.

— Deuce versus Reggie versus the whole offensive line. Can Deuce Lutui play well enough to push Reggie Wells out of the starting five? How will Alan Faneca look? Levi Brown at left tackle instead of right? Brandon Keith as starter? The Texans have a pretty decent defensive line, so the starters should get a little bit of a test.


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Roster moves, a sellout and a flight to Canton

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2010 – 5:42 pm

It was a relatively quiet and low-key practice this afternoon. Matt Leinart looked good in the red zone including a strike for a touchdown, John Skelton looked, well, raw (two straight picks by LB Mark Washington and S Aaron Rouse). And Derek Anderson threw a beautiful over-the-shoulder deep ball to Larry Fitzgerald.

WR Steve Breaston (knee) remained out, as did DT Alan Branch (hip flexor). Wide receiver Ed Gant was added to the injured list; he was sporting a walking boot on his right foot.

On to the other news o’ the day:

— There will be no practice Friday morning in Flagstaff, so anyone thinking about attending this week, tomorrow afternoon is the last workout. The Cards will be back to work Monday afternoon at NAU following Saturday’s preseason opener in Glendale.

— That game against the Texans, by the way, is a sellout. So it will be broadcast on local TV (ABC-15).

— The Cardinals were forced to make a roster move by waiving-injured DL Keilen Dykes (torn tricep tendon) and signing undrafted rookie John Fletcher, who was with the Ravens briefly. It’s a tough thing for Dykes, who worked his butt off coming back from a torn biceps muscle in November. He’s a very good guy and was at the facility it seems every week this summer.

— Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, the longest tenured active pro athlete in the Valley, will serve as honorary captain for Saturday’s game.

— Finally, a video has been posted chronicling the trip made by team president/pilot Michael Bidwill, owner Bill Bidwill, coach Ken Whisenhunt, and fellow coaches on their trip Saturday from Flagstaff and the team’s Red-White practice out to Canton, where they surprised Hall of Fame inductee Russ Grimm. Included are some in-flight anecdotes from Grimm’s cohorts on their Hall-bound friend.


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Injuries, numbers and Porter’s passes UPDATED

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2010 – 12:21 pm

Last two-a-day practices today for the week, so here are some tidbits from the morning, and then after Matt Leinart and Ken Whisenhunt spoke:

— DE Alan Branch came off with a slight hip flexor, and WR Steve Breaston (knee) and LB Mark Washington (illness) also were out, among others. LB Reggie Walker (hamstring) needed rest because Whisenhunt wants to see him in game action. CB Greg Toler, who hurt his ankle yesterday, was OK, and RB Beanie Wells looked no worse for the wear with his ribs, doing everything. Whisenhunt said Breaston was precautionary; he was just a little sore after all the indoor practices last week.

— DL Keilen Dykes has a partially torn tricep tendon, and is getting further evaluation. Probably not great news for Dykes. UPDATE: Dykes has been waived-injured. The Cardinals have signed undrafted rookie defensive lineman John Fletcher out of Wyoming, who had originally signed with the Ravens.

— Adrian Wilson, Joey Porter and Bryan Robinson took veterans’ days off. They should be back in the afternoon.

— More on this a little later, but Whisenhunt actually has reasons why Tim Hightower is starting ahead of Beanie.

— Leinart, describing what it was like to have Derek Anderson in the meeting room, broke into a huge smile. “ADD, man,” he said. “He’s a character.”

— Many players — including the whole defensive line — switched up jerseys at practice. Darnell Dockett wore Porter’s No. 55. “I wasn’t going to trade my jersey with anyone who doesn’t work hard and plays hard, so I kind of had a holdout,” Dockett said. “I waited and found Joey wasn’t practicing. I had to represent. I told him I made it look better than it had all camp.”

— What about the coaches trying to grade film, though? “We just play. They know who we are,” Dockett said. “By now, they should. If I line up at linebacker and you see dreads and I’m not supposed to be there, I am pretty sure you’ve got an understanding.” Whisenhunt was OK with that. “It’s like identical twins. If you or I were to walk up on them, you couldn’t tell them apart,” Whisenhunt said. “But if you are around them a lot, you can tell them apart easily. I don’t have any problems. I know exactly who everybody is because of their body language, the way they walk. But it won’t be an every day occurrence.”

— Porter, while resting, took part in the always riveting throw-the-20-yard-pass-into-the-garbage-can game (one point for hitting the side, two for hitting the rim, three for getting it in). Porter (throwing below) wasn’t coming close during practice. Afterward, he matched Leinart’s one-in so their bet is ongoing. “I am always competing,” Porter said. “I got one in, after about 20 tosses. One-for-20 for a linebacker ain’t bad.”

Said Leinart, “He thinks he is better than all of us in basketball, cans, everything. That’ll be a fun bet, whatever we have.”


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Dockett, Levi lead an afternoon of scraps

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2010 – 6:16 pm

It was the first fully padded practice this afternoon, and it was a doozy.

It started early on, when Larry Fitzgerald and Joey Porter took a turn battling each other on punt coverage on the outside, and a Fitz blow left Porter with a bloody lip (more on that in a later blog). But that was just a taste of the 11-on-11 battles to come.

The donnybrook came first. Darnell Dockett — he’s always in these things, right? — blew up Alan Faneca and both tumbled to the ground right in front of quarterback Matt Leinart. Leinart was moving away, when Dockett swiped at his ankle and tripped him. A no-no, and Leinart wasn’t happy. When he and Dockett stood up, Leinart went up to Darnell and spiked the ball at Dockett’s feet in irritation. Then suddenly, tackle Levi Brown was there, punching Dockett in the shoulder pads sticking up for his quarterback, and the scrum was on.

The next play, tight end Stephen Spach and linebacker Cody Brown mixed it up, with Spach grabbing Brown’s facemask. It didn’t get overly heated until linebacker Joey Porter saw it happen. “Don’t let ’em grab your (expletive) facemask,” Porter screamed at Brown. A little while later, it was the third unit’s turn, when linebacker Mark Washington and offensive lineman Tom Pestock went at it, exchanging punches.

And when it was over, it was over.

“That’s what teams do,” Dockett said. “You compete, and don’t take nothing from nobody. I like it. I like the intensity, but I love at the end we come together as a family.”

Said Porter, “When you have a good team, you can fight all you want to, but when you go in the locker room, we are all one family. We’re just trying to make each other better. Fights are going to happen. As long as you can control them, it doesn’t matter.”

(Yes, we have video, and it’ll be up later tonight. The picture below of Dockett and Levi is from a video still. UPDATE: Here is the video).

Dockett admitted he was “kind of dumb” for taking out Leinart’s foot. “I shouldn’t have done that,” Dockett said. “But when you get caught in the battle, the engine turns on and you don’t think about it. I’m not trying to hurt him but I am trying to go 100 percent every time I put my hand on the ground. If I am doing that, I am making my team better.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt called it “typical” of training camp, but he said it was nice to see the players going hard.

“Emotions were running high,” Whisenhunt said. “When you get the crowd out here, things get revved up. You see that manifest itself in the chippiness.”

Dockett said he was proud of Levi Brown stepping in, saying it was what he expects.

“I patted him on the back and at the end of the day, that’s my family,” Dockett said. “It means something that he is doing it to me, but he better do it to another person if it is somebody else. As long as he does that, I’m happy.”

Porter said he barked at Cody Brown because a player can’t let an opponent get away with things. “You don’t have to accept that, even from a teammate,” Porter said. “My message was, don’t let that happen, especially in front of me.”

Whisenhunt thinks the Cardinals can be smart with the intense practices. Dockett thinks it’s the only way the Cardinals can get another NFC West crown.

“That’s what it’s all about. As much as you love your teammates, when you put the pads on, you have to try and kill them,” Dockett said. “That’s what it is all about. That’s the only way you can get better. You can’t come out and play 80 percent and expect to win a third divisional title. It ain’t going to happen. We have to treat (the offense) like they are the 49ers and they have to treat (the defense) like we’re the 49ers.”


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Filling in the roster gaps

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2010 – 1:47 pm

With the owners’ meetings wrapping up today and the pace of free agency slowing down, it may be a good time to look at where the Cardinals’ roster stands — and where there are holes that need to be filled by the time minicamp begins April 30.

This topic crossed my mind after writing yesterday about the signing of wide receiver Darren Mougey, who may or may not pan out but certainly isn’t been seen (at least as of now) as a replacement, whether it’d be Anquan Boldin or even Jerheme Urban. He’s just one of many receivers that will be on the roster this summer. Today, the Cardinals officially have 60 61 players on the roster, leaving 19 spots to be filled by the draft/undrafted rookies (which figures to total between 14 to 16, depending) and then some free-agent spots. There are seven veterans un-signed who could still return: LB Monty Beisel, FB Dan Kreider, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware, K Neil Rackers, DT Bryan Robinson and WR Sean Morey (although I think Morey is more likely to end up in Seattle right now).

(On my 60-man count, I am including all the restricted and exclusive rights free agents who have yet to sign their tenders, because they eventually will.)

What spots need shoring up? The Cards need at least one more quarterback, and even if St. Pierre comes back, they need someone young, at least for camp. They need another receiver or two, although I am guessing whether they chase a veteran may depend on what happens in the draft. Remember, at that spot, a fourth receiver would likely need to play special teams and guys like Kevin Curtis or Torry Holt tend not to want to do such things.

The Cards definitely need to look at nose tackle, especially if Robinson doesn’t return. They need inside linebackers even if Beisel comes back (which I expect). They probably could use another young pass rusher at outside linebacker without knowing exactly what Cody Brown/Mark Washington/Stevie Baggs brings to the table. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get another cornerback — you can never have too many — and a return man is also needed if Steve Breaston is going to be the No. 2 wideout.

Numbers-wise, here is the current 61-man breakdown by position:

  • QB  2
  • RB  4
  • FB  2
  • WR  6
  • OL  11
  • TE  4
  • DL 9
  • OLB  6
  • MLB  4
  • CB  6
  • S  5
  • Specialists  2

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Eight signed to “future” deals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 18, 2010 – 5:14 pm

The Cardinals re-signed all eight of their practice squad players to “future” contracts, meaning all eight will be under contract heading into the offseason:

  • WR Onrea Jones
  • CB Rashard Barksdale
  • LB Ali Highsmith
  • WR Ed Gant
  • DE Ryan Kees
  • G Jonathan Palmer
  • T Tom Pestock
  • LB Mark Washington

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Cards lose Harrington and other notes

Posted by Darren Urban on December 11, 2009 – 9:29 am

For a second straight year, the Cardinals couldn’t keep linebacker Chris Harrington on the practice squad. Last season, the Bengals signed Harrington away to their active roster. This time, it’s the Jaguars who have taken Harrington to their top 53. Replacing Harrington is linebacker Mark Washington, who spent training camp with the 49ers.

A couple of other things:

— To the victors go the spoils. That’s how the cliché goes. So it makes sense that when USA Football decided to put together an all-fundamental team, two Cards would show up. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is on the team for his ability to catch with his hands, while defensive lineman Darnell Dockett is there for his ability to defeat blocks (and the panel choosing such things has a pretty good collective résumé).

— The offensive line also picked up an award this week. With Jeremy Bridges subbing in at left tackle alongside Deuce Lutui, Lyle Sendlein, Reggie Wells and Levi Brown, the line was chosen as one of the John Madden Most Valuable Protectors winners — a new award given out to the top offensive lines every week.

“The closer you get to the end of the season you hope you have an offensive line that is achieving consistency,” Madden said in a press release. “It looks to me like the Arizona Cardinals offensive line is achieving that right now.”


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