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Blogs

A “blueprint” for the quarterback situation

Posted by Darren Urban on July 19, 2012 – 10:15 am

Ken Whisenhunt has been through this before, back in 2008, when Matt Leinart was coming off a broken collarbone and Kurt Warner was coming off 27 surprising touchdown passes and training camp was about figuring out which guy was going to be the starter that season. (It was Kurt, and while hindsight made it look kind of obvious, it wasn’t as much at the time.)

Some of that experience will translate to this year’s Kevin Kolb/John Skelton competition, although Whisenhunt noted it isn’t the same thing, because Kolb is not Warner is not Skelton is not Leinart.

“I think we have at least knowledge as far as breaking the reps up,” Whisenhunt said. “Handling players, it’s always different because every player has to be handled differently.”

“As for having a blueprint, I hope it works out the same way it did the last time because we had a guy who distinguished himself and he played well and that’s ultimately what you want. But there is no blueprint for success with this. We are just trying to find the guy who give us the best chance to win. We’re doing this because both guys have the opportunity to compete for that spot. That’s it.”

These are different situations, so drawing a straight parallel isn’t fair and it doesn’t make sense. This is only the first of what I am sure will be many, many, many times I write on this subject. But you know that this, barring injury, isn’t going to be decided after two weeks of Flagstaff. This is going to be about at least the first four preseason games if not all five. Back in 2008, one of the turning points was Leinart’s three-interception disaster in Oakland in the third of four preseason games. Often these things work themselves out. (This time doesn’t correlate with 2010 either, really, since Leinart was the clear No. 1 going into camp before things got so sideways in camp and Derek Anderson eventually surpassed him on the depth chart.)

This won’t happen in a vacuum. It’s impossible to ignore what happened last year — Kolb has admitted it’s not as if he’s trying to pretend his struggles didn’t happen — but at the same time, there does need to be a fresh-start aspect to this. In the end, neither player played well enough to say they have already earned the job. So we go from here.


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Missing rookies no longer an issue

Posted by Darren Urban on June 15, 2012 – 10:45 am

Once, the end of offseason work for the Cardinals wasn’t just a beginning but a much bigger deal, specifically when coach Dennis Green used it in his first season as a time to announce his starting lineup for the season. (That was a crazy time. It really was.)

Now, coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasizes competition and ongoing competition. Nothing up for grabs was going to be settled in a month’s worth of work in May and June. But there was one thing settled that is a significant step for the Cardinals — every draft pick was signed before the work ended. Michael Floyd and Jamell Fleming (below) signed on the dotted line, and just like that, a headache that had shrunk in recent years (yet still existed) was gone.

It’ll be league-wide, and it’s thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement. No longer will players be holding out. I’ve never thought, if a player missed a day or two of camp, it was a huge deal, but looking at the last 10 years and the number of picks that have missed at least some time in camp, this is a welcome change:

– 2011 Patrick Peterson, missed 1 day

– 2010 Dan Williams, 3 days

– 2009 Beanie Wells, 3 days

– 2008 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 2 days

– 2007 Levi Brown, 6 days

– 2006 Matt Leinart, 15 days

– 2005 Antrel Rolle, 8 days

– 2004 Larry Fitzgerald, 1 day

– 2003 Calvin Pace, 3 days; Bryant Johnson 4 days

– 2002 Wendell Bryant, all of training camp and two weeks of the regular season

“Knowing the first day of training camp you will have everyone there is a big deal,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “When they miss those first couple of days, it seems like they are always playing catch-up. It’s good we had all our guys here. It’ll be good to have everyone there from Day One. It’s great that our organization, (president) Michael (Bidwill) and (general manager) Rod (Graves), have been so proactive.”


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Talking QB, Feely, Keith

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2011 – 9:14 pm

Wrapping up the night with some quick thoughts that I meant to get to earlier:

–I’ve written this quite a few times, but so many are asking (and continue to ask) I’ll just throw some of my personal thoughts on the QB situation. (That way, next time someone asks, I can just post this link.) I think John Skelton has played some good football. I think he is the first to admit he hasn’t played good football. He did a series of interviews today and said, over and over, he believes Kevin Kolb is still the starter and certainly, coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn’t said any different.

Kolb hasn’t even practiced. He could this week, but I want to see it first. Even if he does, here is what I would do (DISCLAIMER: My opinion here): Skelton would start in San Francisco. All due respect to the Rams and Eagles, dealing with the 49ers’ defense would be a major test. One of the great hypotheticals out there right now in this whole debate, in my head, is how Kolb would have done against St. Louis and Philly, and on the flip, how Skelton would have done against the highly ranked defenses of Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Former Cards QB Kurt Warner went on the radio today — XTRA 910 — and reiterated yet again that, in Whiz’s offense, it takes at least a year in which to become comfy. Skelton had that year (although he is still learning). Kolb obviously has not. Again, my opinion, I want to give Kolb that year. Skelton isn’t going anywhere. It’s not like you can’t afford to keep both around, regardless of who is starting. You can’t afford not to.

– Whisenhunt said he was “disappointed” that kicker Jay Feely missed two field goals Sunday. In case you weren’t sure, just watch the video — after the second one, Whiz clearly let Feely know of his disappointment. But Monday, Whisenhunt said “I’m not worried about Jay.” The game would have been less stressful with the makes, Whiz added, but “I’m not down on Jay.”

– That same knee that right tackle Brandon Keith had repaired last season is continually giving him trouble. Whisenhunt said Keith will get checked out, but that’s a few times Keith has had to leave the game with that knee issue. He’s struggled and it’d be interesting to know how much could be attributed to the injury.

– Texans QB Matt Schaub has a lis franc injury, possibly ending his season. What does that mean? Matt Leinart will take over the reins of a 7-3 team that is in control of its division. The Texans have a favorable schedule, a great run game and a good defense. I was surprised Leinart passed up a chance to sign with Seattle this offseason and possibly become the starter. It worked out for him. It will be interesting to see how life in Houston plays out with Leinart as QB.


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Hitting 400

Posted by Darren Urban on September 12, 2011 – 9:26 am

Let’s start with this disclaimer: The Cardinals need to play better defense. Everyone knows that, acknowledged that. “We let them get some first downs, move the ball on us,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Cam Newton played a great game. He’s a lot better quarterback than a lot of people thought, I’m sure. But we found a way to get it done at the end.”

But — and there is always a but, right? — a bit of perspective on Cam Newton’s 422 yards passing, best pointed out by Campbell again. “We still got the ‘W’ and that’s what it is about,” he said.

On my drive home last night I started mulling the 400-yard passing games I have seen over the years. It’s a fantastic number. And frankly, it usually means a loss. Ask Drew Brees, who was great last Thursday night and piled up 419 yards passing with no interceptions and still lost to Green Bay. The rookie record for passing yards in a game, prior to Matthew Stafford’s 422 in 2009 (tied yesterday by Newton) was the Cardinals’ own Matt Leinart, who threw for 405 in Minnesota in 2006. The Cards lost that game, 31-26 (Stafford did win his game, however, 38-37 over Cleveland, with five TD passes).

Kurt Warner had a pair of monster passing yardage days as a Card. He threw for 484 yards at home against the 49ers in 2007, and for 472 in New York against the Jets in 2007. The Cards lost the former in overtime, 37-31, and the latter was also a loss, 56-35. In fact, while Boomer Esiason’s team record 522-yard passing day in Washington in 1996 was an overtime win, the next five top passing games in franchise history (Warner’s two games, Neil Lomax at 468 yards, Jake Plummer at 465 yards and Lomax again at 457) were all losses.

Steve Beuerlein, who threw for 431 yards in Seattle in 1993, did win in overtime.

Newton’s certainly didn’t pile up numbers chasing a big deficit, which is impressive. But the Cards didn’t allow the Panthers to run well — 74 yards, a 2.7-yard average — which is the flip side of the big passing day. The point, again, is that gaudy numbers are always nice. But they are hollow without the right outcome. And in the Cards’ case, they don’t sting nearly as much with the right outcome.


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Revisionist History: Denny’s thoughts on the Bears

Posted by Darren Urban on June 28, 2011 – 5:18 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

What I remember most is that it seemed to come out of nowhere.

Before the tirade that let everyone remember Denny Green was who we thought he was, we had already gone through five or six minutes of his postgame press conference on that fateful Monday night. It had been an ugly ending, but Denny – who usually was grumpy with an edge after losses – seemed calm, almost shell shocked as the questions came.

Then came the query that set him off, a question that should have led Denny to a good place – one about what the Cards saw in the Bears’ offense that allowed the defense to dominate and forced QB Rex Grossman into six turnovers. Like a boulder rolling downhill, Green started slow and as the anger built, the response grew into its epic ending, when Green bellowed how the Cards “let ‘em off the hook!”

Quick side story – Denny had a similar moment in training camp that year. The day rookie holdout Matt Leinart finally signed, two weeks into camp, tension was building on when he would do so. I was told Green was going to go off on Leinart in his lunchtime presser, and lo and behold, that’s what happened. Denny was asked about how linebacker Karlos Dansby’s injury was doing. A five-minute monologue later, Green was talking about what a shame it was that Leinart wouldn’t play in New England that weekend for the preseason game, when Kurt Warner would and when Tom Brady would, and Green clearly was irritated Leinart wasn’t there. Wonder if Denny knew Leinart was about to sign? Regardless, I don’t see the Bears’ rant as that calculated.

But back to the crowning moment in Denny’s Arizona tenure. The roots of the speech came back in August – a week after that New England trip – when the Cards beat the Bears in the third preseason game in Chicago and both Warner and Leinart played well. Grossman was terrible against the Cards, so much so that the Chicago fans booed him relentlessly. That was what was rattling around Green’s mind less than two months later.

The Cards were already ornery because of how things were going. After winning the first regular-season game at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cards had lost four straight. Warner had been benched for Leinart. The Bears were coming to town with a 5-0 record. The big story during the week was actually Darnell Dockett signing a contract extension (although Leinart’s first start the previous week against the Chiefs caught everyone’s attention.)

Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about Leinart’s good game in the preseason and talked about that game meaning nothing, as a “glorified practice.” Green, hearing this, clearly didn’t agree and said as much, although it wasn’t exactly “who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bull.” At least, not yet.

Then came the game. The Cards dominated, and they lost. Green calmly answered most of the questions and then the one hit him the wrong way, especially with the leftover irritation with Smith’s comments percolating all week and the frustration of the season building (for instance, kicker Neil Rackers missing what should have been a game-winning field goal that night).

While the world watched – over and over – Denny’s rant and it was repeated everywhere, the fallout was quick. Offensive coordinator Keith Rowen was demoted the next day. The Cards’ season ran off the rails, and by the time the Bears made it to the Super Bowl, Green was out and Ken Whisenhunt was the coach. Super week, Denny’s words continued to echo, as everyone kept saying, in some way shape or form, the Bears were who we thought they were.


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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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Revisionist History: Warner’s arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on May 12, 2011 – 3:30 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

We all know what Kurt Warner did for the Arizona Cardinals. We all know the power of his decision to retire.

At the time he arrived, though?

In this first installment of “Revisionist History” (which isn’t so much revising how people should think about a moment for the Cardinals since coming to Arizona as much as reminding them the mindset at the time), a glance back at when the Cards first signed Warner in March of 2005. Denny Green was in his second year as coach. Warner was coming off a benching for the Giants. The Cardinals were coming off a season in which Josh McCown, Shaun King and John Navarre were the quarterback-merry-go-round for Denny.

So Warner was signed. Both local papers compared the decision to the Cards signing Emmitt Smith a couple of years before (“Desperate teams – and desperate players – do desperate things” wrote the Tribune’s Scott Bordow). Remember, Warner only signed a one-year contract in 2005. He re-signed a three-year deal before 2006, and then the Cards took Matt Leinart in the draft, much to his chagrin.

I remember doing a big story on Warner (part one and part two) right before minicamp (that’s a Warner shot from that camp below). There was still much to prove. His halcyon days as a Ram were far behind him, his rebirth with the Cards under Ken Whisenhunt far ahead, relatively speaking. (I mean, I remember how he was showered with boos after the early-season Rams’ loss in 2006. Leinart was the starter soon after, and before the infamous Monday Night Meltdown against the Bears, Kurt was already considering retirement after the season. Can you imagine had he done that, and not had his run in ’07, ’08 and ’09?)

One thing was for certain, Warner still very much believed in himself, and always did, regardless of the circumstances of the team or even Leinart’s showing as a rookie.

A couple of quotes from my Warner opus stand out, especially in retrospect. The first: “It’s kind of my story, the underdog story, no chance to have success. It’s kind of like what I stepped into in St. Louis. I get a chance to rewrite my story and I get a chance to rewrite the story of the Arizona Cardinals.”

There is no question he did.

The second quote? “I am moving my family, I am buying a home and I am believing things are going to work out great. The great thing about it is so much of it depends on me.”


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Playing it “safe”

Posted by Darren Urban on April 15, 2011 – 2:23 pm

The talk about grabbing a “safe” pick high in the draft has been used for a long time now. As I have responded to a few people in blog post comments over the past month or so, there really isn’t such a thing as a “safe” pick. Now ESPN’s John Clayton has written a really good column on the subject, and the reality of going “safe.”

Clayton uses the example of the Dolphins going with tackle Jake Long (three Pro Bowls in three seasons already) and then taking QB Chad Henne in the second round, instead of taking QB Matt Ryan over Long. Henne isn’t working. They are still looking for a QB. Long was “safe” and he has been excellent. But was the pick for the best?

That’s why there is so much hair-pulling (figuratively, of course) about Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, and what they could mean. If you are the Bills, for instance, and you go with Von Miller over Gabbert, and Gabbert turns into Matt Ryan — even if Miller is another, say, Clay Matthews — did Buffalo make the right call? (The same argument can be made for the Cards, for instance, for taking Larry Fitzgerald over Ben Roethlisberger). It’s why the Panthers seem likely to take Cam Newton No. 1 overall, because no matter how “safe” a Patrick Peterson or Marcell Dareus might be, they can’t trump the impact of a franchise QB.

Then again, you don’t know if that QB is going to be a franchise guy (see Leinart, Matt — among others). Another concept: Is it better to take a QB who might wash out or end up with a position player who washes out? The upside of impact usually rests with the most important position. It’s another reason why making the decisions on draft day are never simple, even when sometimes they look that way.


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Whiz talks change

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2011 – 11:42 am

Coach Ken Whisenhunt just had his season-ending presser. Change is coming, he said — “When you go 5-11 … it has to be that way” — but he was short on specifics. Not a shock. Whisenhunt isn’t going to call people out publicly. Never has been his style.

–Very interesting comment from Whisenhunt about how “sometimes you get emotionally attached to players and what they have done for you in the past.”

“You may have a tendency to overlook certain things … When you win games, sometimes you let things slip a little bit, ‘OK, he didn’t make this play, he’ll make it the next time.’ That builds up over time and you start evaluating players based on what you remember them doing a year or two or three or four ago and maybe not candidly assessing where they are right now. That’s an easy trap to fall into … and you have to work past that.

So be more cold-hearted? “There’s a fine line there.”

As for players who underachieved this season, that has to change. “Their goodwill is used up.” And as for the “star” players, “Some of our best players didn’t play at their best.”

Let the speculation begin on which players about whom he is speaking.

I know this, that safety Adrian Wilson said while some players cared, some didn’t. He said sometimes, it was “hidden” to many. Asked if he could still see it, Wilson said “I’ve been here 10 years. I’ve seen a lot of bull(bleep).”

– There is a story out there saying WR coach John McNulty was the front-runner for the University of Miami offensive coordinator job. Whisenhunt said McNulty said he has not been contacted about the position. It’s just a rumor for now.

– Speaking of the coaching staff, Whisenhunt said he wasn’t saying anything less than 24 hours removed from the last game. “We have started the process already of evaluating and we are going to evaluate everything (including coaches). I know there will be changes, I don’t know what that will encompass, but we are going to work to make sure we don’t have another season like this.”

Something to keep in mind: With the labor uncertainty and the possibility the offseason could be lost, Whisenhunt said teams must be careful about new coaches and new schemes because there’s a chance there will only be three weeks or so to implement anything new, rather than a whole offseason. That’s a factor right now.

– Passing game coordinator Mike Miller could end up as the playcaller next season. But Whisenhunt, asked if he thought his own playcalling made it hard for him to manage the big picture, noted the 10 wins the Cards had in 2009 when he was calling plays. “What you have to be careful about is basing it off of one season (this season). I don’t feel like it does (hurt us).”

– Whisenhunt didn’t change his thoughts on the handling of the quarterback situation, after being asked directly about having regrets or second-guessing on the situation. “I think we were fair and honest about the process.”

He was asked if he felt Matt Leinart would have provided more wins.

“That’s a question I don’t think can ever be answered,” Whisenhunt said. “I did what I felt was in the best interest of our team at the time. It was based on performance, it was based on the reaction of the team to the players and who was in there and the confidence our team had in the position being able to execute. That’s what it was all about. It was based on the work in the offseason and the work in OTAs and training camp. That’s the way you have to evaluate players. Who knows? It’s a question that can’t be answered, but I am sure it is a popular topic.”

– LB Clark Haggans (sports hernia) and CB Michael Adams (shoulder) are the two players scheduled for offseason surgery for now.

Here’s a shot of Wilson and Kerry Rhodes wrapping things up. More later today on the homepage.


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Whiz re-visits handling of QB position

Posted by Darren Urban on December 6, 2010 – 11:41 am

The Cardinals are undecided at quarterback at this moment.

With Derek Anderson undergoing concussion tests and Max Hall out seemingly at least a week if not longer with a dislocated shoulder, John Skelton is the only healthy QB right now. Coach Ken Whisenhunt wouldn’t commit to a starter yet, which doesn’t surprise. He wants to see where Anderson is first. The Cards also need to see what Skelton is comfortable with as a playcaller. If Hall is out — and Whisenhunt declined to say it was a season-ending injury — the Cards I would think would sign someone (and signs point to former Redskin Richard Bartel).

With everything going on, Whisenhunt was asked about what he has learned about dealing with the quarterback position, and was asked specifically if he would have kept Matt Leinart if he had to do it all over again.

“That’s the thing to talk about now (but) when we made the decision at the time, we did what we felt was best for our team and best for our future going forward,” Whisenhunt said. “Obviously it is easy to second-guess now because it hasn’t worked out the way any of us had hoped or thought it was going to. I can’t go back and say now you would do anything differently because the dynamic is different now (compared to) then when we were making the decisions.”

Whisenhunt was asked about having a veteran QB backup — which the Cards didn’t have — and he emphasized “it’s got to be what’s best for your team.”

“The team has to believe in that position too, and how those players are performing,” he added. “(Max and John) you felt earned their spots. If you had to do it over again, I think hindsight is always 20/20. But I look at other teams in the league who had veteran backups that now aren’t playing because they are playing other guys. There is no guarantee just because you have a veteran he will do the job for you.”

Overall, Whisenhunt said, finding a franchise quarterback isn’t easy. He pointed to both Miami and Denver, and their ongoing quests to replace Dan Marino and John Elway.

“I learned if your plan at quarterback, if they play well, it looks like a good plan,” Whisenhunt said. “If they don’t play well, it doesn’t look like such a good plan. There’s a number of teams out there struggling at the position.

“The bottom line is that position has not performed for us this year, nowhere near the level we have needed it to perform. We haven’t been able to compensate in other areas to account for that. What have I learned? I’ve learned it’s tough when you lose a quarterback like Kurt, and to have someone come in a play at the level you are used to without compensating in other areas is difficult.”


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