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Fitz is SI’s back-to-football cover boy

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2011 – 7:18 pm

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald is Sports Illustrated’s choice to represent the NFL on this week’s the-NFL-is-back issue.

Speaking of football, with teams now contacting undrafted rookies, NAU is reporting the Cards will sign Lumberjacks receiver Daiveun Curry-Chapman, while @NFLDraftInsider is reporting the Cards will sign Michigan State offensive tackle DJ Young and Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin.  The Devlin signing is interesting; once the Cards get a veteran (and assuming Derek Anderson is released) that’s five QBs. With 90 on the roster, maybe they carry an extra guy for now. Or maybe Devlin replaces someone else — it’d come down to Max Hall or Rich Bartel. UPDATE: And @NFLDraftInsider is calling OL Kris O’Dowd of USC too.

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Undrafted limbo

Posted by Darren Urban on April 24, 2011 – 5:00 pm

The draft comes in a matter of days — 5 p.m. Thursday night in Arizona — and every year, hundreds of draft hopefuls wait to get a phone call. This year, because of the current lockout and the uncertainty of when it will be resolved, there might be a little more stress come Saturday in those last couple of rounds.

Everything during the draft will be normal, generally. Players will be picked, players will  be interviewed. Assuming a player is still game, a first-rounder will still do some sort of press conference. Once Mr. Irrelevant is selected, however, and the draft ends, all the players drafted fall into the same spot as all the current NFL players, and contact with teams ends until a new labor agreement is reached. That has, of course, included new contracts (which is why free agency hasn’t begun). That means no rookies can sign a contract either. That doesn’t mean much for draftees — I mean, they already know what teams they will play for.

The post-draft stampede for undrafted rookies, however, won’t be happening. At least for now.

Last year, the Cards ended up keeping a bunch of their undrafted signees. Think of all the guys who made the team in one way or another last season who were undrafted: receivers Stephen Williams and Max Komar, cornerbacks A.J. Jefferson and Marshay Green and quarterback Max Hall. All left big enough marks in the offseason work to gain a foothold for training camp. Will such guys get that chance this offseason? They won’t even know what team they are playing for for the time being.

“Once the draft is over, that’s when it becomes very strange,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “Not signing guys, not being able to coach these guys, having them in for OTAs, getting them accustomed to the playbook, that will hurt all these rookies and all these teams counting on these rookies contributing. The undrafted free agents, not even being  able to sign those guys until it is over … it hurts the percentages of those players coming in and making an impact.”

Again, we don’t know what the summer will hold, or when things are resolved. If a labor agreement is reached soon enough, things might not end up that different, other than adjusting what month things happen. In the meantime, this year’s Stephen Williams, whomever it may be, will have to wait and see. That can’t be easy.

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Fitz gets the guys together

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

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

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

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

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Again with the quarterbacks

Posted by Darren Urban on March 21, 2011 – 10:10 am

We can say there is nothing going on NFL-wise right now as the labor issues remain unsolved, but the speculation hasn’t stopped, especially when it comes to the most important position on the field. And since the Cards are searching for a quarterback, it’s not a surprise that when SI’s Peter King weighs in on the various possible veteran quarterback moves around the league, the Cards are part of the discussion.

King notes that a team is already willing to pony up a first-round pick for Kevin Kolb but that the Eagles are hoping to get a higher first-rounder. As my cohorts Matt Maiocco and Kent Somers have already tweeted this morning, it means it can’t be the 49ers or Cards making that offer. No way Andy Reid thinks he is getting better than seventh or fifth in the draft. Besides, I don’t think there is any way either of those teams parts with that high of a pick for Kolb. Does that rule out the Cards? No. Maybe the right package of picks would be of more interest to Philly. And who knows? The team that is offering that first-rounder is unknown for now — maybe it’s just Philly saying such things to spark a market.

(A market, of course, that is only talk until there is a new CBA since no player trades can be made.)

King also talks about Marc Bulger in Arizona, a notion that is anything but new. Kurt Warner did an interview with Chuck and Vince on KDUS (1060 AM) late last week and said he thinks his former teammate still has something left to give despite not playing very well since 2006. “The thing I look at, putting guys in certain systems and how does it fit their skill set,” Warner said. “If the Cardinals want to do what we did when I was there, I think Marc fits the bill extremely well.” Warner also said the Bengals QB Carson Palmer fits.

(By the way, it was asked of me this morning about King mentioning Max Hall today in his Bulger note. King wrote “coach Ken Whisenhunt … has not totally given up hope on Max Hall.” King doesn’t mention Skelton.While I think it’s fair to say Whisenhunt “has not totally given up hope” in regards to Hall, I do think it gives the impression Hall remains ahead of Skelton in the pecking order. I do not think that is the case.)

I don’t know what it will take for Palmer to be acquired, if the Bengals even are willing to trade him and not force him to make a retirement decision. And the idea of Kyle Orton isn’t absent either, although again, until we have a better idea of when this can all happen, we won’t get a true idea of if any of these things can happen.

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Fitzgerald avoids “future” talk

Posted by Darren Urban on February 3, 2011 – 2:38 pm

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald just did an interview with Mike Jurecki and Dan Bickley on XTRA 910 out at the Super Bowl. Since it’s a local show — and both have long-standing relationships with Fitz — who better than to ask him about both his contract situation and his future with the Cardinals?

Yeah, exactly. Fitz was having none of it. When it was suggested he use his leverage to force the Cards to improve, Fitzgerald said “I hate that word, leverage … I’ll be a diva then.”

As I have found myself, Fitz will never be rude about it, but he can’t get away from such questions fast enough. I don’t blame him. The only realistic answer right now is that he probably has to keep his options open, given where the Cardinals’ roster sits, the labor uncertainty and, in a direct impact of Fitz, the situation at quarterback. But where’s the upside in Fitz (who is headed to Israel and Turkey on vacation next week) saying that? I’m guessing he sees none.

Q: People have been writing … (they don’t) think you’re going to be in Arizona. It’ll be tough to keep you.

Fitz: “Naw. You can’t believe rumors like that.”

Q: You have made it clear you want to be on a winning team. This offseason is important for this organization … it’s important you let them know you’re not a guy who tolerates losing.

Fitz: “I’ve been in the playoffs the last two years … We are getting used to something there. To go backwards isn’t something any of us want. We wall want to move in the right direction. I know Coach (Ken) Whisenhunt, it’s been a tough year for him, it’s been a tough year for all of us. We want to get this thing back on the right track.”

Q: What is some of the criteria though to get better …

Fitz: (interrupting): “I’m not a diva like that. It’s not about what I want.”

Q: But you have to have personal goals, things you want to achieve, and if you don’t have the quarterback, it’ll be hard to do, so what are the criteria (you need) …

Fitz: “I’m not setting criteria. I think there are a couple of positions we need to upgrade, we need to continue to improve and add more pieces to the puzzle, and that’s all I’m going to say on that. I’m not trying to call out anybody, I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers. I’m not the GM or the coach. I’m just a guy out there catching passes occasionally.”

Q: Are they (the team) tapping into your perspective with the quarterback situation?

Fitz: “Honestly, I don’t feel comfortable doing that. As a player, there’s a fine line. I love my franchise and I love my coaching staff, but I am still a player at the end of the day. Max Hall is a good friend of mine. John Skelton is a good friend of mine. I really enjoy Rich Bartel. For me to say I want someone to come in and take their job, that’s not right of me.”

Q: Have the Cardinals made you a new contract offer?

Fitz: “What do you mean?”

Q: A contract offer.

Fitz: “We’re discussing some different options … There is dialogue, yes.”

There was a follow-up about whether Fitz would consider talking about a contract into the season if something wasn’t done by say, Aug. 1, and Fitz did a nice job diverting that into the worry about a work stoppage that could eat into the season. He never did answer the original question. He mentioned he wants to bring his fellow wideouts to Minnesota — Steve Breaston, Stephen Williams, Andre Roberts, Max Komar, Early Doucet — if there is a work stoppage to keep them all moving in the right direction.

Here was one line that stood out to me from Fitz: “I don’t want to waste another year.”

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Cards sign Bartel, put Hall on IR – UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2010 – 11:30 am

As expected, the Cardinals made a roster move at quarterback today, putting Max Hall on injured reserve with his bad shoulder and signing UFL graduate and former Redskin Richard Bartel for the rest of the season. I do not expect a decision on the starting QB to be made public today (although you never know). Bartel was with Washington last season and this preseason and with Cleveland in 2008. He has never appeared in a regular season game, although he did complete 12-of-14 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals in the preseason finale.

While coach Ken Whisenhunt did not rule out a new signee to start right away at QB, I still expect it to be either John Skelton or Derek Anderson. Skelton seems to be more likely, but predicting such things hasn’t been easy.

UPDATE: The Cardinals have also lost offensive lineman Herman Johnson off the practice squad when Johnson was signed to Chicago’s active roster. Johnson, the Cards’ 2008 fifth-round pick, long battled weight issues and the writing may have been on the wall when, after Brandon Keith went down with a season-ending injury, the Cards decided to sign D’Anthony Batiste to fill the roster spot instead of promoting Johnson.

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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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Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2010 – 10:05 pm

Less than a week ago coach Ken Whisenhunt was saying John Skelton probably wasn’t going to play this season barring an injury. Then Max Hall got hurt. And Skelton got to play Sunday.

So now we see if Skelton gets to play. He looked good on those first couple of throws – darts to Steve Breaston and then Larry Fitzgerald – and that led the crowd to go crazy. You would have thought the Cards had traded for Tom Brady at that moment, but it showed how much the fans are starved for offensive success.

Because Max Hall was sick Friday last week, Skelton actually got some first-team reps – eight in fact. That is the entirety of Skelton’s first-team reps this season. Then he had to go out and perform with them.

“I was about as nervous as a third-string quarterback going into his first-game action could be,” Skelton said. “Nothing overwhelming or anything.”

– Will he start? We will see. I think a strong case can be made for it, especially since Whisenhunt said after the game that even though Derek Anderson wasn’t right (and was being checked for a concussion) he was going to make a QB change anyway.

Something has to change, Whisenhunt said. That certainly points – to me – as the Cards trying out a third starter this season.

– XTRA’s Mike Jurecki is tweeting the Cards will sign QB Richard Bartel should Hall be out (which sounds likely). The Cards had Bartel in for a workout a few weeks ago and they had seen him already this season – he played a good chunk of the preseason finale at University of Phoenix Stadium for the Redskins. If they do sign him, he’ll be the third guy. I would expect Anderson/Skelton to be one and two in some order.

– When Hall came in, he ended up passing three straight times despite the Cards being down just 10 points and the Cards running well. The first play, a play-action call, ended in a sack. The second play was a near-sack and an incompletion, and the third was an interception. It was an inauspicious sequence, but Whisenhunt said the Rams’ constant blitzing called for such plays.

“We thought there would be easy, easy throws,” Whisenhunt said. “One of (passes) got tipped and we missed the protection. The same play we ran to start the game (an Anderson 16-yard pass to Fitzgerald), we got the same blitz. We picked it up on the first play, we didn’t pick it up on Max’s first play.”

– Kicker Jay Feely has quietly had a great season. Take away a missed 54-yard field goal (which was straight but short wide left … dang the official scorebook!) and he has made all 15 of his other attempts (and is perfect on 21 extra points). He’s also drilled 14 touchbacks. He deserves Pro Bowl consideration, although I worry the offense may not give him enough opportunities to draw attention from the rest of the league.

– Disappointing Larry Fitzgerald still hasn’t taken that franchise record for catches to himself. He is tied with Anquan Boldin after today. He was targeted 11 times, but ended up with just four catches. He would have been open on the interception thrown by Anderson; Not sure if Anderson thought Fitz would stay straight (Fitz was setting up an up-and-out break) or if he just threw it behind Fitz.

– Darnell Dockett was all over the field Sunday. It was good to see him so dominant. Kerry Rhodes was impressive too. I actually thought Sam Bradford played better in the opener than Sunday, although the Rams didn’t have to get too fancy knowing their own defense was holding down the Cards.

Four games to go.

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49ers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2010 – 1:55 am

Well, I didn’t expect that.

I didn’t expect the Cards to get beat up by the Niners like that, and I didn’t expect Derek Anderson to be all over the TV and radio when it was over because of his heated postgame comments (You can see the video here). That a few seconds of Anderson smiling on the sideline would garner so much attention is amazing yet understandable at the same time. I didn’t even see the video until after the postgame interview process was over, but I darn sure heard about it via Twitter from a lot of fans – already upset at the way the game was going – even moreso after seeing the quarterback like that. (I am also sure fans heard Jon Gruden on the telecast questioning it too).

My guess it was a bit of gallows humor from Deuce Lutui (Kurt Warner joked to me on Twitter after that “Knowing Deuce he was inviting DA over 4 a Tongan barbecue 2 lighten the moment, I would have laughed 2!”). That’s fine. Just explain that. In the grand scheme, it isn’t a huge deal really. But what else is there to really talk about?

The Cards misfired in all three facets of the game. They couldn’t take advantage of Frank Gore’s injury and let the corpse of Brian Westbrook erupt for 136 yards rushing. They couldn’t do much on offense again. Special teams also took it on the chin a couple of times, whether it was Ted Ginn ripping off some long returns or having a good kickoff runback by LaRod Stephens-Howling called back on a penalty.

Not good. Not good at all.

“To lose six in a row, it hurts,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Especially when you know these guys in the locker room. I look at what we do on the practice field, how we work, work, work, this doesn’t make no sense to me.

“People say, ‘When is it gonna change, when’s it gonna change?’ (Expletive), it don’t seem like it’s ever gonna change. I don’t know what’s going on.”

– That was as glum as I have ever seen Larry Fitzgerald. “I’m at a loss for words,” he said, and it was tough to blame him. I know this is where everyone freaks out again about Fitz long-term, and that is an issue that must be contemplated. In the moment, though, he’s not only at a loss for words, but also answers.

– Breaking down numbers seems pointless tonight (especially at 1:45 a.m.). The 49ers dominated, and you don’t have to look at the stat sheet to see that. It was stunning to see Westbrook run the ball so well, however. The running lanes were huge at times. Troy Smith didn’t even have a good night throwing, other than that first TD pass. It didn’t matter.

– The last thing this team needs right now is a turnover – especially on the very first offensive play. When you wonder about a team’s confidence, which coach Ken Whisenhunt did last week, it isn’t helped by a quick mistake.

– We will see if anything changes tomorrow or Wednesday but when asked generally about changing personnel this week – which, of course, includes the quarterback – Whisenhunt noted a short week and said “we’re going to stick with what we do.” I assume that means Anderson still starts. Even if he were to make a change, I wouldn’t think we would hear anything until Wednesday anyway, because tomorrow is a mandated players day off and Whiz doesn’t announce such things unless he gets to talk to players first.

– So obviously, no, I don’t expect Anderson’s postgame comments to impact playing time. Nor should they, in this case. If a change is going to be made, it should be for football reasons, and it seems – given the Cards’ record and future – there are valid ones to do so. Please don’t ask me about Max Hall and John Skelton playing beyond that information though. I don’t know and it doesn’t even make sense to hazard a guess anymore.

– As I wrap up, I think of wide receiver Steve Breaston, who has slid into the role of resident philosopher/soul of the team in many ways. Maybe it’s his background as a writer, I don’t know. But even when the Miracle Baby says he doesn’t have anything to say he ends up having something to say.

“We have been through trying times and we have responded so I think the people on this team know how to respond,” Breaston said. “I don’t know what’s going on…. ‘X’s’ and ‘O’s’ are cool, but sometimes, you gotta jump over somebody, you gotta run through somebody. That’s all about being a football player and playing beyond the expectations of that play.”

At this point, I would guess the fans would be happy with just coming close to expectations.

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Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on November 12, 2010 – 3:42 pm

It didn’t take Adrian Wilson long to answer the question, sitting there on his own Big Red Rage radio show Thursday night. He was asked to give the Cardinals’ defense a grade for the first half of the season.

“F,” Wilson bluntly said.

And he didn’t back off it.

“I mean, you’ve got to be critical of yourself and you’ve got to judge yourself pretty hard,” Wilson added. “I’m pretty sure if you ask anyone in the locker room they’d say that. We’re playing nowhere near how we should be playing.”

(Hmmm. I hope that wasn’t conduct detrimental, me quoting him off the radio … I’ll consider that.)

Of course, there is no way the Cards’ defense is playing that poorly. You can be frustrated at the end of the Minnesota game, but as Seattle coach Pete Carroll said “they just got Favred” and there is truth to that too. The unit does need to finish – which Wilson emphasized, and which has apparently been emphasized all week from coaches to players – but that can happen.

Here’s the thing to me: Linebacker Joey Porter is playing well, as are guys like Alan Branch, Kerry Rhodes, even Paris Lenon. If the Cards’ Pro Bowlers start to flash more often (Wilson, Darnell Dockett and DRC come to mind), the idea of an ‘F’ will be laughable. For sure, Wilson is thinking about his season, which has been in a holding pattern since his huge season opening game in St. Louis.

“I got to start making more plays in the second half of the year, and that’s a guarantee,” Wilson said.

And with that, the Seahawks are on deck:

– In contrast to the two gut-punch losses the Cards have endured the last two weeks, the Seahawks have lost the two games since the last time these teams met by getting run off the road. There was a 33-3 shellacking against the Raiders and 41-7 ugliness against the Giants. It would seem to have made it harder to see much on video, since the games got out of hand.

But the Oakland game didn’t get sideways until later on, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said, so there was plenty to mine from that tape. The Giants, not so much. But, “when you are playing a division opponent that you have seen, you have a better feel with what they are going to do and how they will try to attack you,” Whisenhunt said, “so I don’t think it’s a big issue.”

– You’re gonna want to know about Beanie Wells. Well, I don’t know. As I said earlier, if he can’t give you something early, you have to think long and hard about making him active, since he doesn’t play special teams. My guess – and purely a guess – he will play more this week, although I’d think Tim Hightower will end up with more work.

– Speaking of Hightower, he was carving up the Seahawks last game (six rushes for 59 yards) before the fumble heard ‘round the world (or at least, ‘round the Cardinals’ locker room). More of the former without the latter this time?

– Forgot to drop this in the blog yesterday (I did tweet it, and if you’re not on twitter.com/cardschatter you’re missing some of my best stuff, at least in 140 characters or less), but the game Sunday is a sellout. That’s 49 in a row for those scoring at home.

– The legendary Kent Somers has a nice breakdown of how the Cards were Favred last week on all those killer slant passes.

– Don’t forget the food drive Sunday either. Or the chance to help the Tillman Foundation scholarship fund.

– The Cards have given up 28 sacks this season, two more than all of last year. There are some reasons for that other than questionable protection or the fact Kurt Warner isn’t playing quarterback. Rookies always tend to get sacked a little more, and Max Hall endured 12 of the sacks despite having thrown only 75 passes to Derek Anderson’s 181. A couple came last week at the end of regulation when the Cards were fruitlessly trying to move downfield in 20 seconds.

“It’s been more about mental errors than physical errors,” Whisenhunt said, noting that one game had three sacks all on missed blocks by backs.

– The Cards felt they killed themselves in Seattle more than the Seahawks beating them. That final was 22-10, and the Cards gave up five painful turnovers. Regardless of how the last two games ended, the Cards are a better team than they were when they went to Seattle. Great? No. But definitely better.

Let the second half begin.

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