Next up for a contract

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2012 – 12:32 pm

With the news Daryl Washington got a contract extension, it changes the list of who might be next up for the Cardinals on the contract front. The obvious and probable choice is running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season and is a player whom general manager Rod Graves has already said is a target for a new deal. We’ll see if that comes to fruition, but the way the NFL is these days, a back who fills the Hyphen’s role is important to have.

Beyond that? The Cardinals have done a good job managing contracts at this point. Extensions are usually only there for younger players who you don’t want to hit the open market. Older veterans who play a role usually don’t get anything done until after the season and even then, after free agency arrives — if the team is going to bring them back at all. So some of the guys scheduled to be free agents after the season — defensive linemen Vonnie Holliday and Nick Eason, tight end Todd Heap, safety James Sanders, linebacker Quentin Groves, tackle D’Anthony Batiste — probably aren’t going to get into talks until later.

One intriguing name is linebacker Paris Lenon, but he likely falls into the previous category, even as he is about to start for a third straight season and was named captain again. Lenon said he thinks he has more in the tank for beyond 2012, but we’ll see if the Cards’ front office has thoughts that dovetail with that. Beyond Lenon, there are younger guys like linebacker Reggie Walker and defensive backs Rashad Johnson and Michael Adams. I don’t see any of them getting new deals in season.

Other than that, the Cards are in good shape through 2013 in terms of key guys under contract. I know some are asking about Patrick Peterson, but he’s already under contract through 2015. He’ll have to be locked up before then, but there is plenty of time for that.

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Jefferson traded to Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2012 – 11:38 pm

UPDATE: The trade has been officially completed. The Vikings get A.J. Jefferson. The trade involves “an exchange of undisclosed, conditional 2013 draft picks.” I’d think that would mean a swap of picks between the teams, meaning the Cards get one, the Vikings get one. We’ll find out the rounds involved as we get closer to the draft, but I can’t imagine we’re talking about high picks here. Conditional usually means it’s based on the play of the player involved, so Jefferson’s performance — or at least, the number of games he plays, or something like that — will make an impact.

Well, this is one way to relieve the logjam of defensive backs the Cards have — cornerback A.J. Jefferson tonight tweeted out he was being traded, and then tweeted it was to the Vikings. Nothing has been officially announced. Kent Somers reported draft picks are part of the equation. I would assume the trade will be announced sometime over the weekend. If Jefferson is dealt for a pick or two, it would give the Cards an open roster spot, which could be filled, for instance, with another linebacker, since the Cards are a little thin in that category right now with only seven. I’m still curious to see if the look at another offensive lineman.

It was a wild ride for Jefferson in two-plus years, from an undrafted guy that was inactive almost his whole rookie season to suddenly being a starter after the lockout to being benched halfway through last season. It seemed like his spot on the team was tenuous anyway. If the Cards decide to hang on to 10 defensive backs now — five cornerbacks, five safeties — it means, among others, that Michael Adams has once again prevailed to make the roster. There is no better story than Adams creating the kind of NFL career he has.

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Broncos (and preseason) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2012 – 12:25 am

The Cardinals avoided overtime Thursday night (thank goodness). And now the fun begins.

Final cuts are in a matter of hours, coach Ken Whisenhunt will have a press conference at 2 p.m. Arizona time. So, in the interest of getting some sleep, some highlights and thoughts from the preseason finale to tide you over until the real news tomorrow (which should be cuts and possibly could include a starting QB choice):

— Injuries probably didn’t make roster picks, but they might have cemented them. Rich Bartel was 4-for-5 before leaving with a right shoulder injury, although the way rookie Ryan Lindley performed, Lindley was probably always going to be the pick. He’s got a lot of upside. If Javarris James was in the mix at all at running back, that ended when he tore his ACL on Omar Bolden’s 103-yard kickoff return. That’s just unfortunate.

— If I had to do my 53-man roster over, I might change a couple of things. Or at least seriously consider it. Now I’m finding it hard to believe outside linebacker Quentin Groves doesn’t stick around. The other backup outside linebacker choice then would come down to Clark Haggans or Brandon Williams. In the secondary, undrafted rookie Blake Gideon got a ton of playing time, and while Rashad Johnson and Adrian Wilson sat out, I start to wonder if Gideon could have a chance to slip on the roster, in place of Johnson, maybe? And there is little question there is a decision coming between A.J. Jefferson, Greg Toler and Michael Adams. There will be some drama tomorrow.

— Ryan Williams did not play as Whiz took a long look at both William Powell and Alfonso Smith as they battle for a roster spot. Powell had 18 yards on nine carries, Smith five on five, and neither really stood out Thursday (although Powell did have a nice kickoff return late.)

— I thought Beanie Wells looked very good in his start. He had 35 yards on seven carries, although he said he needs to get better. “I have to get my leg drive and get my feet under me,” Wells said.

— LaRon Byrd had a couple of nice grabs among his three catches for 47 yards and if he didn’t solidify his spot, it’ll be because the Cards only keep five receivers. But if they keep six, he’s in, I’d think.

— Michael Floyd had an amazing touchdown catch for his first in the NFL. Ball bouncing around, Floyd grabbing it while he was hanging parallel to the ground and holding on as he crashed to the turf. “That was a much more acrobatic circus catch than I ever could have made,” fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald said. Methinks Fitz is a bit modest, but no matter. It was a great play.

— The Cards have to be thrilled with what Lindley showed, especially for a rookie and a guy they picked in the sixth round. He had a couple of clunkers (although his one interception was a mistake by receiver Isaiah Williams, who didn’t pick up a checked call at the line, and the other pick was called back with a penalty). Bhe threw the TD and threw some darts and maneuvered the Cards to a late tying drive thanks to a 56-yard bomb to Williams (pictured below). The Cards couldn’t get it in the end zone, but again, Lindley looks like he has a potential future.

— Lindley had some decent protection early with the starting offensive line (although rookie right tackle Bobby Massie did have a couple of hiccups on an early drive with a holding penalty and to get beat for sack.) Will I be surprised to see the Cards pick up an offensive lineman via waivers as teams cut? Absolutely not.

— Whisenhunt said the Cardinals haven’t ruled out using the new IR rule – which allows players with major injuries to return later in the season without taking up a roster spot – on tackle Levi Brown. The Cards will talk more about Brown’s prognosis to return. The decision has to be made by Friday afternoon.

In fact, most of the news will come down Friday afternoon. So with that, I’ll say goodnight.

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Fleming and the secondary

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2012 – 12:29 pm

Rookie Jamell Fleming isn’t going to go into a bunch of detail about his work at cornerback.

“I want to keep working hard I take pride in what I do,” Fleming said. “I want to be the best.”

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton had said he thought Fleming had hit a bit of a wall in camp. Fleming had looked good in OTAs and minicamp, so maybe a bit of a plateau was going to come. Fleming shrugged it off – “All rookies get a little wall in the way” he said. “You’ve got to push through it.” – and he certainly wasn’t bothered by the two questionable calls against him last game, one for hitting a defenseless receiver and the other for pass interference. Both calls certainly could have gone the other other way.

“Stuff is going to happen like that in the NFL, especially at corner,” Fleming said.

There is little question the third-round pick will be counted upon this season. The battle at defensive back has turned into the interesting story as expected, although I think the Cards would have liked more dynamic plays at this point to help separate people. I think right now, barring something odd, William Gay will stay as the other cornerback starter alongside Patrick Peterson. Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes are your safeties.

Then what?

At safety, veterans James Sanders and Rashad Johnson have been running as backups and special teamers, but now the Justin Bethel factor comes in. Bethel is getting some work at cornerback now as well as safety, but he will be on the roster because of special teams. Do they keep five safeties because of that? Could the Cards keep 10 instead of nine defensive backs? If so, that leaves five cornerbacks, or three to join Peterson and Gay. Fleming is on this team. So that leaves Greg Toler, Michael Adams, A.J. Jefferson and Crezdon Butler vying for two spots.

Fleming isn’t ready to step in across from Peterson, but he could end up as the nickel back.

“I think he is learning and growing, especially playing the nickel inside and playing this level of competition,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “It’ll ramp up quite a bit in the regular season. He has done a nice job from when he first came in as far as what was expected of him. He has been told he needs to get better at some things but I’ve been pleased with how he has progressed.”

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Spirited work, and a move at tackle

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2012 – 6:47 pm

Quarterback Kevin Kolb was talking about how coach Ken Whisenhunt treats the players fairly, not overworking them usually. “We have to reward him with a better effort.”

Practice sure seemed more intense Monday afternoon after the Cards had a disappointing game in Kansas City. There was a scuffle between defensive lineman David Carter and center Scott Wedige and some various whoops and hollering, and the battling went all the way down to the late part of the two-minute drill, when Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson went up for a jump ball in the end zone and while it looked like Peterson had it at first, Fitz wasn’t going to give up the battle as they fell to the ground.

As for the offensive woes of late, answers are at a premium. “If we knew, maybe practice today would have been a little better,” Kolb said. “I’ve been a lot of places and you go through funks like this. To be honest a lot of time it happens in practice a lot when the defense, they know route concepts and stuff like that. You just keep pushing through, trust your keys and keep working hard.”

— The Cardinals made a move in the lineup Monday, with D’Anthony Batiste taking over as first-string right tackle from Jeremy Bridges, who then took Batiste’s place as second-string right guard. No way to know what it means yet — coach Ken Whisenhunt is next available at lunch tomorrow — but at a position where everyone was waiting for a Bridges-versus-Bobby Massie fight, it was an interesting development.

— Sitting out with injuries were FB Jared Crank (neck), CB Michael Adams (hamstring), WR LaRon Byrd (shoulder), RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (undisclosed) and LB Paris Lenon (ankle).

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Bethel looks special on teams

Posted by Darren Urban on August 7, 2012 – 8:27 am

Justin Bethel understood the goal. “Going in I knew I needed to play well on special teams,” he said.

The rookie sixth-round draft pick knows he’d have a tough time making the team just as a safety. But he was a special-teams demon in college and showed it Sunday against the Saints. He whiffed on one of his early attempts but made an impressive tackle as a punt gunner — blowing past two blockers to bring down the return man just as he caught the ball — and the came off the edge, a la Patrick Peterson, to get a hand on a 54-yard field-goal attempt. At one point, he even told special teams coach Kevin Spencer he would block a punt too, if he had been given the chance.

On the blocked field goal, Bethel wasn’t on the outside and tried to get a teammate to switch. He was turned down, but a timeout was called and Spencer made the move anyway. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to go get it now,’ ” Bethel said. “I just wish I could have gotten it a little more so I could have tried to pick it up, but a block is a block.”

Bethel’s abilities create a lot of options for the Cards. Would his work mean it was less likely to keep special teams ace Michael Adams at cornerback, or might the Cards keep both and punch up what analyst Ron Wolfley likes to call the “transition game.” It’s Bethel’s only option to the active roster, because it’s hard to see him breaking into the safety rotation soon.

“I wanted to show up on special teams,” Bethel said. “We have great safeties. Kerry (Rhodes), Adrian (Wilson), Rashad Johnson and James (Sanders). I know if I can make the team on special teams it will give me time to mature and learn, where they can trust me not only on special teams but defense, making the right calls and making the right plays.”


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Hall of Fame game aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2012 – 11:19 pm

It is way, way late – going on 2 a.m. local time – and I have to get up much too early to catch a plane to Missouri on our next stop of this magical mystery tour of the preseason. So this aftermath is going to be short and sweet (OK, let’s see if it really is once I finish):

— What do you want me to say? I don’t think it’s a character flaw that Kevin Kolb gets hurt. Does it hurt when he’s not on the field? Of course. Dave McGinnis used to say “Availability is more important than ability” and in many ways, that’s true. If you can’ stay healthy, the rest doesn’t matter. But you’re never going to convince me Kolb is less of a person because he won’t “tough out” an injury. Especially in a freaking preseason game. The first one, in fact. I would give tonight to John Skelton, obviously. But this isn’t over, no matter how much everyone wants it to be. We’ll see how Kolb reacts this week. Only a couple days of practice before the Chiefs game.

— It was an early bell to play a game, and I asked Ken Whisenhunt if it was fair to say he expected some of the sloppiness. “That would be the right answer for me to say,” Whisenhunt said, before acknowledging, “I would hope we would have been better.”

— The missed tackles weren’t good, but out of everything NFL teams work on, I always wonder how you can really work on that. Sure you can talk about being in better position, but ultimately, you can never have a full-on tackling practice. That’s reality and maybe the best reason to have five preseason games.

— Dave Zastudil had a great day punting in his home state, including a Hall of Fame game record 79-yarder. Michael Adams showed why he’s so great on special teams with the way he saved the ball from going in the end zone.

— Rookie Justin Bethel will be a killer on special teams with that speed and ability. Blocked a punt, had a great tackle as a gunner. I think he makes the roster on that alone.

— Michael Floyd gets his first catch, a 15-yarder. “It felt good to get the nerves out of me, to get those jitters out. Now I can just go play ball.”

— Every time I see Alfonso Smith run the ball, he shows something. I don’t know if he’d ever be a feature back, but as a fourth back, the Cards have something.

— That goes double for LaRod Stephens-Howling, whom I really would like to see touch the ball more on offense for the same reason – he just seems to make people miss.

— Linebacker Stewart Bradley had a rough year last year, but he made a couple of plays tonight with a sack and a pass defensed. He said he is so much more comfortable. Having him as a workable piece of the defense would make a difference.

— Seriously, though, Stew — that sack dance?

— Whisenhunt said he thought the offensive line played better after they “settled down,” which apparently was after Kolb was knocked out of the game.

— Rookie right tackle Bobby Massie seemed to have a rough night, and Whiz concurred with the assessment: “He looked like he was a young tackle who struggled a little bit. He was beat on up and under (moves) a couple times.” Whiz said they are working on Massie’s set-up so he’s not as mechanical, but that’s something that was going to take longer than a couple weeks of padded practice.

— Whisenhunt talked about dealing with some of the young guys, especially at the end when rookie QB Ryan Lindley drove the Cards in a spot to possibly tie the game (first-and-goal) only to have two incompletions and a Lindley pick end the hope.

“At the end of the game we had the whole team come over on the time out,” Whisenhunt said. “I was like, ‘This is like a college team. (Quarterbacks coach John) McNulty said, ‘About six of those guys are college guys.’ You have to understand what you are working with.”

— Ah youth. While Lindley was conducting the drive, Larry Fitzgerald was making lots of fans happy signing autographs. That’s the preseason for you, and the dichotomy between the young and veteran with the reality of an extra preseason game. “Guys like Lyle (Sendlein) and Levi (Brown) and guys that have been here a while, it’s probably their worst nightmare,” Lindley said. “But for us, it’s a blessing, for the rookies, the younger guys, all the guys fighting to make the 53.”

There. Done in 15 minutes. Goodnight.

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The first depth chart

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2012 – 9:22 am

The Cardinals put out their first official depth chart of the season today. This stuff is fluid given certain competitions, but they have to make someone No. 1 and No. 2 and so on. There are no shocking developments, but:

— Kevin Kolb is listed as the No. 1 QB right now. John Skelton is the No. 2.

— Jeremy Bridges is the No. 1 right tackle over Bobby Massie, and as I have said many many many times, I expect that to be the case for a while.

— With Jeff King still rehabbing his quad, Todd Heap is the No. 1 tight end, Rob Housler No. 2.

— Behind Fitz is DeMarco Sampson and then Stephen Williams. At the other receiver spot, it officially goes Andre Roberts, then Early Doucet, then Michael Floyd.

— William Gay is the No. 1 right cornerback across from Patrick Peterson. Greg Toler is listed as Gay’s backup, with Michael Adams listed as Peterson’s backup.

— Brandon Williams is Sam Acho’s backup, with Clark Haggans as O’Brien Schofield’s backup at OLB. Quentin Groves is behind Haggans.

— With the large roster, the only second team rookies (no starters) are LG Senio Kelemete, FB Jared Crank and Massie. (And the Cards are incredibly unlikely to keep two fullbacks.) T Nate Potter is third-string, Floyd is third-string, S Justin Bethel is third-string and, with the large amount of veteran cornerbacks, Jamell Fleming is technically fourth-string behind Gay, Toler and A.J. Jefferson (although he will be on this roster, no doubt.)

Here is the entire depth chart.

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The work at the end of the week

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2012 – 6:41 pm

I’m not a big fan of doing any play-by-play or recaps of practice, because in the end, it just doesn’t matter. Each play is a snapshot, with little or no context. But, with the Red-White practice tomorrow — which will basically be a series of drives, offense versus defense, with play calls like it’s a game — the Cards worked on red zone and two-minute drills today. It provided some highlights.

— Tight end Rob Housler made a couple of nice catches at the back of the end zone, one time banging into the pad on the lower upright. Michael Floyd couldn’t haul in a high jump ball in the end zone, but later in the two-minute drill caught a pass while tippy-toeing toward the sideline. DeMarco Sampson beat Greg Toler in the end zone for a touchdown.

— But on the defensive side, Patrick Peterson broke up one pass over the middle, while Kerry Rhodes managed to control a bouncing, tipped pass to finally nab it for an interception.

— Interesting that, in the two-minute drill in the defense’s dime package, the defensive backs were Rhodes and Adrian Wilson at safety, and then four cornerbacks: William Gay, Peterson, Michael Adams and A.J. Jefferson. Toler worked with the second dime unit. It’s early, but these are the things you notice.

— The second unit of the offensive line during the two-minute drill were, from left tackle to right tackle, D.J. Young, Senio Kelemete, Ryan Bartholomew, Chris Stewart and D’Anthony Batiste. Eventually, Bobby Massie was put in at right tackle, Batiste slide to right guard, and Scott Wedige at center. I’ve said it a few times, but I think the wait for Massie to start will be awhile.

— Running back Alfonso Smith blew up linebacker Sam Acho on a block during the two-minute work. Smith has worked hard to earn a spot on the team, which I think is pretty assured at this point.

— If you are coming to the Red-White, don’t forget to come early. All the details are here, but last year, there were about 13,000 fans on hand.

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Cornerback Fleming over OL in third

Posted by Darren Urban on April 27, 2012 – 7:54 pm

OK, the Cards didn’t take an offensive lineman in the third round. They stuck with the BPA, going with Oklahoma cornerback Jamell Fleming, who did 23 reps in the bench press and ran a 4.43 40 at the combine and basically was better than the offensive linemen available.

“We’re looking for an opportunity to address the offensive line but you don’t want to do it at the expense of other players that can bring more to your football team,” general manager Rod Graves said.

Graves said the draft isn’t the only place the Cards can look for offensive linemen, and there are still five picks left in the draft anyway. There definitely wasn’t a sense, from either Graves or Whisenhunt, that there was a tackle who tempted them when the pick came up — not compared to Fleming.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt likes what Fleming can bring not just to the secondary but also special teams, which is needed. Whiz also said last year’s draft was successful, and in part that was because the Cards didn’t reach. “We didn’t try and fit a perceived need as compared to finding a fit for you, and that’s what we see Jamell as.”

Certainly, Fleming doesn’t have any lack of confidence. He talked about getting here and being in the mix, and when he was asked about playing special teams, he said “I have a highlight reel just on special teams.” I’m guessing he’ll fit in well with the Cards’ group of defensive backs (although I can already picture Adrian Wilson rolling his eyes.)

Graves said this has nothing to do with Greg Toler’s rehab, and that Toler is on schedule to return. But with Patrick Peterson, William Gay, Toler, A.J. Jefferson, Michael Adams and Fleming, there might be some decisions to be made (although it is possible Fleming can play a little safety, a la Richard Marshall.)

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