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Breaking down the first 53-man roster

Posted by Darren Urban on September 2, 2017 – 5:57 pm

The Cardinals have a roster. I expect it to change by Sunday night, but as usual, we will see. There is a possibility they look at signing veteran punter Andy Lee, who was cut Saturday by the Panthers and who has a history as a holder for Phil Dawson. They could grab an outside linebacker, because they only kept three thus far. The likelihood is that T.J. Logan will go on IR too, so that’ll quickly create an opening.

In the meantime, some thoughts on the roster as is:

— The numbers breakdown:
QB 3
RB 5
WR 6
TE 3
OL 9
DL 7
OLB 3
ILB 5
CB 4
S 5
ST 3

— Other than Logan on the roster (I did not know a player could not be put on IR immediately and be able to return later in the season, so that was a new one for me) this was basically what was expected at running back. Chris Johnson was let go as Andre Ellington seemed to find his rookie vibe. Ellington can catch the ball better and ultimately, I think that was a big thing.

— The receiving corps ended up being the six most likely candidates, but someone will end up on the practice squad. My guess would be Carlton Agudosi, but Bruce Arians likes how Chris Hubert gets open too.

— The offensive line may have delivered the most surprises, but then again, Arians was happy with his starters plus John Wetzel and the rest was up in the air. I thought Cole Toner would be the swing guy but instead, the Cards kept C Daniel Munyer (who they liked, obviously) and T Ulrick John, as well as rookie T Will Holden. G Dorian Johnson, the fourth-round pick and the only choice not to make the roster, really struggled in camp and preseason and it cost him a chance to stick.

— The Cards only have three outside linebackers. I’d guess Cap Capi will be a practice-squad candidate, and they very well could find an outside linebacker somewhere as a cut from another team. Philip Wheeler was the guy who beat out Scooby Wright as a fifth inside linebacker. Wright could be practice squad. He does well on special teams but his athletic limits hurt Wright on defense.

— Matt Wile is the punter. Will that change?

— Rudy Ford makes it as safety over Harlan Miller. Ford has a lot of speed, and that shows up when he plays center field on defense and on special teams.


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Broncos — and preseason — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2017 – 10:55 pm

The preseason is over. The veterans and guys who know they have locked up roster spots, it’s a great time. Football counts the next time the Cardinals play a game. But the next hours and days are hard for many of the others on the bottom half of the list. Take guard/center Cole Toner, who looked like he might be the Cards’ choice as a seventh offensive lineman but then ran into some issues in Atlanta. It made Thursday’s game in Denver a little more important.

“I’m definitely not comfy,” Toner said. “I played the whole game today, so usually that doesn’t portend good things, but honestly I don’t know.

“I’m confident. I don’t know. We’ll watch the film tomorrow. I thought I played well. I didn’t play that well in Atlanta so I needed to come back and play a better game, which I did. So I’m proud of myself for that. It’s on to the regular season — if the opportunity presents itself for me.”

That was a lot of Thursday. Some impressed Bruce Arians, like Rudy Ford and Elijhaa Penny. Some didn’t, although Arians wasn’t being specific. This is about a “final” roster, but it’s also about a lot of guys getting their dreams crushed, and Arians is cognizant of that.

— The good news is the Cards came out of the preseason fairly healthy. Rookie defensive tackle Pasoni Tasini hurt his right knee, although Arians said it was likely a sprain and not serious. That’d be good, because Tasini figures to be a practice-squad candidate.

— No decision yet on the punter, although I thought Matt Wile probably won the job.

— I thought Ford, the rookie safety, looked good playing in the second half, and Arians noted him specifically. Ford and Harlan Miller looked like they were in a battle for a last secondary spot. Both are practice squad-eligible, so maybe that’s where the one goes who doesn’t make the roster.

— Here’s my guess — and it’s just a guess, although educated after watching the last six weeks — at the 53-man roster.

— The Cardinals will meet as a team Friday morning and then the players have a few days off. That’s good because the front office has plenty to sort through with all the cuts coming. I am not sure what the schedule is for releasing guys when it comes to the Cards, but names could start trickling out as it happens. Arians has a press conference late Friday morning.


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Wednesday before the Broncos, Haden and punters

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2017 – 11:03 am

The last preseason game is upon us. None of the starters will be playing, and neither will some key backups. There are, in reality, very few spots left and while the game could mean something in a spot or two decision-wise, most of the choices could already be made now. The Cardinals know what they have. These next few days are about adjusting the roster, comings and goings that will be impacted by waiver claims, signings and maybe a trade.

— Lot of questions about whether the Cardinals would chase soon-to-be free-agent CB Joe Haden. I don’t expect it to happen, and there is a simple reason why. Haden isn’t close to the same player he was just a couple years ago, when he deserved to be in the same discussion with the Patrick Petersons of the world. He struggled last season and has struggled a lot this preseason. I’ll be interested to see what he can get on the open market, since the Browns do have a $4 million offset, and we’ll see if he signs for more than one year. But his body has been breaking down over the last couple of seasons. As with every player, I fully expect the Cardinals to at least evaluate the possibility. The likelihood of the Cards chasing him, when there are probably going to be many suitors, I would think would be low. Mostly because he isn’t the player he once was.

UPDATE: Adam Schefter reports the Steelers are signing Haden for a 3-year, $27M deal including $7 million this season. So that’s that.

— There is the punting battle between Matt Wile and Richie Leone, knowing that veteran Jeff Locke has been cut and reports say still-effective veteran Andy Lee could traded by Carolina. Lee took a pay cut, which makes his salary more manageable, and if the Panthers are willing to take a low-round pick, maybe that is a path the Cardinals consider.

— Other stuff to watch in the game, especially when the final roster, at least at the bottom, may come down to who will be active on game days (which means a lot for guys who play special teams.): Rookie Rudy Ford on special teams, since he is likely battling Harlan Miller for a final safety spot. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson on offense, against Brittan Golden on special teams. How well do guys like Cole Toner hold up on the offensive line? Can the Cardinals be comfortable with their offensive line depth?

— There will not be an injury report until a week from today. That gives three key players — G Mike Iupati (triceps), DT Robert Nkemdiche (calf strain) and LB Deone Bucannon (ankle) — one more week before we really get a sense of whether they will be ready to play the regular-season opener.

— Speaking of the waiver claims and trades that could happen (remember, any player claimed off waivers must remain on the 53-man roster for at least three weeks), in the Keim era, the Cardinals have been awarded three players on waiver claims (Thomas Kaiser, Alameda Ta’amu and Bradley Sowell) and aquired two players in trades (Marcus Cooper and Matt Barkley) during final roster cutdown time.

— I’ll post a guess at the 53-man roster soon after the last preseason game.


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Falcons aftermath, and Stanton’s hard count

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2017 – 9:38 pm

That Drew Stanton hard count. Those of us who were at training camp practice every day saw it … well, just about every day. There it was, with the Cardinals 21 yards from the end zone, and he barked and the Falcons jumped. He had done it earlier, but guard John Wetzel flinched too. (Bruce Arians let him know: “I already got Wetzel – he don’t have much ass left.”)

But this time, just the Falcons moved and it gave Stanton a free play, and he lobbed a 21-yarder to Smokey Brown that Brown somehow came down with over-the-shoulder.

“We went back to (the hard count) and they kept jumping,” Stanton said.

Those two TD passes to Brown, along with a defense that made Matt Ryan look miserable (preseason, yes, but an 8.1 passer rating is not what the Falcons wanted to see in the third game of the preseason) made Saturday pretty good for the Cardinals. Not great. But good. Much better than this time last year. The starters and main guys are done now. They won’t play Thursday in Denver. Anyone playing this coming game is either not going to be on the team or is likely fighting (a few locks will play – they have to – but the last preseason game is what it is, especially with 90-man rosters).

That opening trip to Detroit, when things count for real, is only two weeks away.

— The running backs situation is interesting. Arians would not say Chris Johnson has locked up a roster spot, notable after Johnson fumbled twice. Elijhaa Penny also lost a fumble. Kerwynn Williams is making this team as a return man, but beyond he and David Johnson, it feels like Penny, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington are battling for two spots.

— DT Olsen Pierre is in concussion protocol. Hopefully he’s OK. If he’s down for any time, depending on what happens with Robert Nkemdiche’s calf strain, things could get dicey on the defensive line.

— Stanton quietly had a nice night, completing 4-of-6 passes for 53 yards and his score.

— Linebacker Cap Capi probably isn’t making this team (although Jarvis Jones’ lingering back issue might create a need for a fourth OLB; that guy could still come from final cuts or a trade too). But Capi was impressive Saturday, enough to earn props from Arians. He had seven tackles, 1½ sacks and a tackle for loss.

— The playmakers on defense made plays. Markus Golden gets a strip sack. Tyrann Mathieu a pick on a tipped pass by Karlos Dansby. Patrick Peterson should’ve had a pick, but he lost it as he was going to the ground. “He’s getting fined for his drop,” Arians deadpanned.

— Matt Wile seemed to have a much better night than Richie Leone punting, although the numbers weren’t all that different. Right now, I’d guess Wile has the lead for a roster spot.

Huge comeback night for Brown. He spiked the ball on the pylon after his first score. “It was an emotional release to show people that I’m back and feeling good.” Brown said. Brown has to stay healthy. That’s a given. But the Cardinals need him out there and productive. His impact is obvious. We saw it Saturday.

— Arians acknowledged he considered not playing running back David Johnson Saturday until changing his mind, in large part because Johnson was part of the early script. Johnson made his lone catch of the preseason on the game’s second play, resulting in a first down. He came out after that.


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Friday before the Falcons, in a new stadium

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2017 – 2:44 pm

So the Cardinals get to open a stadium Saturday. It just isn’t their own. They’ve done that before, and I remember that day – even though it was in my previous life with the East Valley Tribune. It was just the preseason opener, but the Steelers were in town and a fanbase thirsty for an indoor stadium finally had one. The atmosphere was excellent.

In the Georgia Dome the Falcons didn’t have as bad of a situation as the Cardinals did in Sun Devil Stadium. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl last season in that building. But the first game in a new palace means something, preseason or not. Honestly, the Cardinals couldn’t really get a better final test before the regular season. (No starters are going to play in Denver.)

A lot has been said about the length of camp, but realistically, the Cardinals are always going to have long camps because they need to be inside. As Bruce Arians said, putting 90 players (plus, including interns, some 30 coaches) inside the practice bubble in Tempe doesn’t make sense. But part of camp next year sounds likely to include a week against another team, so that certainly would break up the monotony.

— Without a lot of David Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s hard to really get a sense of what the Cardinals are going to have offensively no matter what happens in Atlanta. But no matter what Arians says, I do think that unit needs to have a couple of good drives early. Arians noted he’d like to see the pass protection be solid because the Cards struggled in that area in Atlanta last year.

— Speaking of the offensive line, here’s what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said his message was to the unit about their responsibility for Carson Palmer: “Either you protect him or I’m not going to protect you.”

Added Goodwin, “We have to do a better job, because we know he makes us go. Without him, it’s an uphill battle.”

— Defensively, you want to see better linebacker play than last week. Hopefully, the cornerbacks not named Patrick Peterson face some tests as well.

— It was good to hear Arians say he doesn’t think defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will miss a regular-season game. The key will be that first day of practice following the Broncos preseason finale. You want Nkemdiche in the lineup, but, like Deone Bucannon, if he misses the opener to make sure he’s around the rest of the season, you want to be smart.

— In my opinion, some of the battles still going on up and down the depth chart: Backup running back, although I think Chris Johnson has the edge on Kerwynn Williams; Backup inside linebacker between Josh Bynes and Philip Wheeler; and the sixth wide receiver between Brittan Golden and Jeremy Ross, and with an outside shot to Aaron Dobson (because of his speed).

— Another battle still wide open is punter. Arians said neither Matt Wile nor Richie Leone has separated themselves, and Arians didn’t rule out looking elsewhere. One plus is the 90-man roster through the last preseason game. The Cards can evaluate both punters two more games.


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Raiders aftermath, as Stanton shines

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2017 – 12:01 am

It was a new perspective for me Saturday night, with my new preseason duties as sideline radio reporter putting me down on the field the whole game. The focus goes up when there isn’t Twitter to watch and interact with, that’s for sure. The Cardinals had most things go exactly how they’d like them to have gone. The injuries were limited and minor, and the first-team offense was solid.

But the fact Drew Stanton played so well (11-of-15 passing) was helpful. One, it helps define what the rest of the preseason is about, and in the case of the quarterbacks, that’s whether Blaine Gabbert is someone to keep as a third quarterback rather than supplanting Stanton as No. 2 (not that it was ever that close to being a battle anyway.) The Cardinals took a flier on Gabbert to see if he might have some future value. The plan was always for Stanton to remain No. 2. Stanton’s poise in the pocket impressed Saturday. He also praised strength coach Buddy Morris and that crew for preparing his body so well, noting it’s made a difference. Whatever the reason Stanton got off to such a good start — he had as many completions against the Raiders as he did all of the 2016 preseason — the Cardinals will take it.

— Same with Carson Palmer, who looked sharp. There were a couple of near misses. The Cards will lament greatly if Palmer slightly overthrows a wide-open Jaron Brown for what should’ve been a 46-yard touchdown if it had been the regular season. But the bullet to Brittan Golden for a touchdown was nice, and Palmer maneuvered the pocket well.

— David Johnson, 3 carries for 16 yards. I’m not sure I’d need to see him at all the rest of the preseason. He looked fine.

— Golden is one of those guys who just makes it so hard to cut. Three catches for 44 yards and a score, and he’s good on special teams.

— The punters weren’t busy, but they clearly got the message from coach Bruce Arians. Each only punted once. Matt Wile crushed a 65-yarder (net of 56), Richie Leone launched a 61-yarder (net of 45). Wile’s kickoffs were impressive all night too. In fact, special teams did pretty well. Josh Mauro had a blocked field goal and Kerwynn Williams had a 35-yard kickoff return and a 13-yard punt return. Phil Dawson nailed both field goal tries and two extra points with ease (Wile missed a 46-yard field goal, but again, he won’t be trying field goals when it counts.)

— Linebacker Josh Bynes had a team-best six tackles, a half-sack, a tackle-for-loss, a big forced fumble and a pass breakup. He’s a vet, last of the Lions, signed because of injuries — and you have to wonder if he could make a push for a roster spot. he and Scooby Wright could be fighting for a possible place.

— Gabbert had a tougher time in Game 2, but part of that was the blocking, which didn’t hold up all that well. Gabbert took four sacks. That can’t happen, either with him or with the line.

— Did we mention that DT Robert Nkemdiche is playing well? He did again Saturday — he blew up a third-and-1 play for the Raiders, and was in the middle of stuffing the Raiders on the very next fourth down try — and you can see the confidence is feeding into his upswing. If he plays well, the line will be fine, even post-Calais.

OK, it’s midnight. Cards are off Sunday and back to training camp practice Monday.


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Friday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2017 – 3:02 pm

Finally, some starters.

It could be quick for either of the units against the Raiders. As in years past, if the Cardinals carve up Oakland for an 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession, or the defense forces a couple of quick punts, I could see Bruce Arians sitting down his main guys. To me, this game is important for the offense and the collective confidence. Carson Palmer sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices, so I’m curious to see how that comes together – especially since the receiving crew, beyond Fitz, has been up and down and injured in camp thus far.

Defensively, it sure seems the confidence is there. Robert Nkemdiche is breaking out. Tyrann Mathieu is full-fledged Honey Badger-y. And Palmer and Bruce Arians believe this has been Patrick Peterson’s best camp yet.

Peterson, as usual, is thinking big.

“If you want to be remembered somewhere where you can be forever – which is Canton – those are the things I can control, make sure to continue building up my résumé,” Peterson said (pictured here with Cardinals Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams).

Some other things to think about before the Cards get to a second preseason game, and the Raiders play their first:

— The players in particular I want to watch in the game, even if it is for limited time: CB Justin Bethel, LB Haason Reddick, DT Olsen Pierre, G Evan Boehm, RT Jared Veldheer, WR Jaron Brown and all three QBs: Palmer, Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert.

Some played last week, some did not. Veldheer still hasn’t played right tackle in a game. Seeing Bethel under the lights is important. I want to see how Gabbert follows up with his impressive debut and how Stanton responds to all the Gabbert discussion.

— Arians again praised Stanton all week. I also thought it was interesting to hear Arians speak about Stanton and his hits and misses in practice:

“There has been an interception or two, some are not his fault,” Arians said. “Sometimes when you are running with those twos and threes, guys aren’t where they are supposed to be and you try to force one. I do like that, see if you can get it in that window and see if you can or can’t. No big deal if you throw a pick.”

Dunno if that applies to preseason games as well.

— Punter is something to watch as well. Arians said he wanted to see more from either Matt Wile or Richie Leone (preferably both, but one is enough). I’d guess they will split the punts again. If you can’t punt well at University of Phoenix Stadium – where this and next week’s games are – that’s a red flag.

— We’ll get to see Kerwynn Williams get run as a return man. We know Williams can return kicks OK. How he will do on punts – and whether he could manage that job with T.J. Logan out – is what is in the spotlight.

— Two weeks of training camp left at the stadium. As of now, seven practices are scheduled to be open to the public: Monday through Thursday next week, and Monday through Wednesday the week after.

— Finally, for those who are looking for my constant in-game tweeting, that will drop off quite a bit in the preseason. For the next four games, with Paul Calvisi in the radio booth doing play-by-play, I will be on the sideline as the reporter for the radio broadcasts on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. (And for those who don’t like my constant in-game tweeting, you win!)


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Bethel’s level gives him chance for “great” year

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2017 – 12:26 pm

We’re a long, long way from “failure-in-progress.”

Bruce Arians was asked about Justin Bethel — who has looked pretty good in practice — and the coach was blunt in his assessment. This time, it was in a good way. “If he plays at the level he’s playing at right now, he’s going to have a great year,” Arians said. Bethel’s confidence has returned after his broken-foot-related struggles of a year ago, Arians added. Throw in some praise for Brandon Williams’ game against the Cowboys along with practices — Arians said as a press corner, Williams is going to get beat every so often, like he did on the long pass in the Hall of Fame game — and the coach sounds a lot more confident about his No. 2 CB role.

(Of course, after the signing of veteran Tramon Williams, this is what the Cards have to work with. Aeneas Williams isn’t walking through that door. But I do agree that Bethel has looked solid.)

“At the end of the day, I want to be the starter, but all three of us are going out there and work as hard as we can and we all want to see us all get better,” Bethel said on the “Red Sea Report” Tuesday.

— WR John Brown (quad) is back at practice today on a limited basis. T D.J. Humphries (hamstring) will miss another day.

— Arians said he wants to see more consistency from punters Matt Wile and Richie Leone. There is time to improve, Arians said. But over the next couple weeks, if he doesn’t see improvement, Arians said the Cards won’t be adverse to making a move there.


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Hall of Fame game aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Pooching and the kickoff question for Dawson

Posted by Darren Urban on June 12, 2017 – 6:27 am

When the Cardinals signed veteran kicker Phil Dawson, one of the questions that came up immediately was whether he would kick off. Dawson split time with the 49ers last year with punter Bradley Pinion on the duty, and ended up with only four touchbacks. But Dawson emphasized that his low touchback count was by design and not because of an inability to kick it deep. While both the Cardinals’ current punting options — Matt Wile and Richie Leone — can and have kicked off in the past, coach Bruce Arians has said Dawson can do the job. It’s a wait-and-see situation, but Dawson wants to kick off.

Dawson said the biggest reason his touchback count was so low last year was that the coaches wanted him to pooch kickoffs. Pro Football Focus pointed out that Dawson had the greatest percentage of kickoffs between the goalline and the 5-yard line last season, at 41.5 percent. With touchbacks now coming out to the 25-yard line, a pooch-and-cover strategy makes a lot of sense. The Patriots, to name one team, did it well last year. The Cardinals went with the touchback most of the time with Chandler Catanzaro, but given special teams issues and the need to cover, that probably was a good idea. If the Cards can gather a coverage unit that can get there, Dawson could trap return men near the goal again. Yes, his touchback ratio would be lower, but if the Cards can lock down the return man inside the 25, no one will care.


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