Rules of the offseason

Posted by Darren Urban on February 8, 2013 – 10:06 am

With new coach Bruce Arians taking over, there have been some questions about when they can get started working with players — the collective bargaining agreement makes it plain they can’t do it right now, and all the coaches who have talked the last couple of days have mentioned how they have been careful to work within the CBA rules in that regard. There has been no official schedule released yet about how the offseason will proceed. Key fact to note: The Cardinals — as you can see below — can’t begin before the first Monday in April. Here’s a quick look at the CBA language about what is to come.

(And yes, a new staff like the Cardinals have are allowed to have an extra minicamp for veterans — as you will see — but it must be regarded as voluntary as opposed to the one mandatory minicamp.)

Current offseasons are broken into three parts. Phase One is two weeks long, and is only strength and conditioning along with rehab. Only John Lott and Pete Alosi — the strength and conditioning coaches — are allowed on the field with players, and players can’t use actual footballs if they are on the field at the facility. In Phase Two, over the next three weeks, coaches can get on the field and run individual drills or unit drills alone — offense or defense, but offense can’t go against defense.

Phase Three, over the next four weeks, includes the minicamp and OTAs, and is the only time players can wear helmets. Live contact isn’t permitted.

As for having a new staff, here are the relevant parts of the CBA:

Article 21, Section 2: If a Club hires a new head coach after the end of the prior regular season, that Club may schedule or conduct an offseason workout program for no more than nine total weeks, with eight of the weeks required to be consecutive and subject to Article 22, Section 3, to be completed over a twelve-week period. All other Clubs may schedule or conduct offseason workout programs for no more than nine consecutive total weeks, to be completed over a ten-week period. In either case, Clubs may schedule no more than four workouts per week for any individual player. Such workout programs shall not be permitted on weekends.

Article 21, Section 2, Subsection C: Each year offseason workout programs cannot begin prior to the first Monday in April for Clubs that have hired a new head coach after the end of the prior regular season, and cannot begin prior to the third Monday in April for all other Clubs.

Article 22, Section 3: Voluntary Veteran Minicamp: Any voluntary minicamp for veteran players must be conducted prior to the College Draft, but no earlier than week three of the Club’s offseason workout program and after at least one week of the two weeks of Phase One activities that the Clubs may hold pursuant to Article 21. 

A couple of key points: The Cards aren’t allowed to get started in the offseason this year before April, and the CBA pretty much spells out that players aren’t allowed to do much of anything with coaches before the start of the offseason program. Players can start working out in the weight room on their own, but coaches can’t do anything but supervise to prevent injury and misuse of equipment.

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“Feast or famine”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 12, 2012 – 1:26 pm

As Larry Fitzgerald came off the field after the first minicamp practice of the week, he shook his head. “Feast or famine for me today,” he said, not happily. It seemed like any other summer workday for Fitz, even with the one obvious drop that left him less than thrilled. But that’s Fitz, the guy who caught a pass downfield and then sprinted all the way to the end zone just to finish, even as everyone else had moved back toward the opposite 20-yard line.

In a world where everyone has highs and lows, Fitz doesn’t want any lows. Don’t know if that’s possible, but he’s clearly efforting.

— Only one guy was missing from the mandatory work, and that was defensive lineman Nick Eason, excused to tend to family issues. Offensive linemen D.J. Young (knee) and Blake DeChristopher (back) are out, and running back Beanie Wells (knee) sat too. Everyone else worked at least some.

— Rookie guard Senio Kelemete (below) returned after missing all the OTAs. He couldn’t come because school was still in session. He kept his head in his playbook while he was absent. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he’s still far behind right now, no shock as a rookie.

The Cards go back on the field this afternoon.

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Rookies wrap up camp

Posted by Darren Urban on May 13, 2012 – 12:20 pm

The final rookie minicamp practice of the weekend just ended. As usual, it’s too early to tell much.

“It’s hard,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Everybody looks good in shorts. You don’t want to get too excited. (At first glance), you like what you see. We had a number of guys look good. Everyone is on the same playing level today. We’ll have a better sense when they go against the veterans. But the first stage of the test, they passed.”

Whisenhunt said there was something missing without veterans, where a coach could grab a vet and have the vet show the newcomer how to execute something. But no veterans also meant more reps for the players who need it most. “It was a new experience with just rookies,” Whisenhunt said. “We’ll judge how productive it was once we get to OTAs and see how they respond.”

As for a final message for the group, Whisenhunt kept it simple. “I thanked them for their effort and their work,” Whisenhunt said. “I think for three days and five practices, we kind of knew what we were doing, so that was impressive. The credit goes to our coaches and the players. … For the guys who are going to be here, (I told them) ‘Be ready to work.’ ”

— As Whisenhunt said, the draft class was noticed. Quarterback Ryan Lindley and wide receiver Michael Floyd hooked up on a nice downfield pass Friday, and both clearly looked more comfortable as the weekend went on. Cornerback Jamell Fleming had some impressive pass breakups over the days. Tackle Bobby Massie looks right, but again, so hard to tell how a lineman will really be when it counts. It’s the same for all of them really.

— You’d expect the guys who have already been in the league to stand out at least a little. A couple did, at least from my perspective. Linebacker Quan Sturdivant looked comfortable out there in his first offseason, while new tight end Martell Webb made impressions on a couple of catches, including a nice one-handed grab down the seam Sunday.

— The Cards officially have 85 on the roster. The remaining five spots should be filled before OTAs start a week from Tuesday. Linebacker Clark Haggans and defensive end Vonnie Holliday remain viable options for two of those spots.

— Whisenhunt did offer blanket Happy Mother’s Day wishes to everyone. “When you get into these camps, you can lose sight of the real world, you can forget today is Mother’s Day,” He said. “We were sure to tell the guys, ‘Be sure to call and thank your Mom.’ We wouldn’t be out here if it weren’t for our moms.’ ”

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Cards looking for the Quan

Posted by Darren Urban on May 12, 2012 – 9:08 am

The Quan was in the Cardinals’ locker room long before the 2011 draft, thanks to Rod Tidwell and “Jerry Maguire.” But then the Cardinals refreshed their supply last year when they took linebacker Quan Sturdivant in the sixth round of the draft, a prospect for the inside of the 3-4 alignment that seemed promising.

But Sturdivant never was able to make a serious run at the roster. He was put on the practice squad, and while he stuck around there, he was the lone member of the 2011 draft class to not make the opening day roster (running back Ryan Williams was on injured reserve, but would have been on the team) and couldn’t even get a late-season promotion. Now he’s taking part as one of nine veterans at rookie minicamp, trying to get the work he didn’t get with the lost (to lockout) 2011 offseason.

“I know I’m just as young as (the rookies),” Sturdivant said, laughing, “but I do feel kind of old.”

Once the Cards signed Stewart Bradley, the need for Sturdivant wasn’t as urgent given the Cards’ rotation of starters Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon along with Bradley (who struggled himself) on the inside. It may not have mattered. Sturdivant acknowledged he had a tough time and a “big learning curve” trying to figure out the defense of Ray Horton.

It was also hard watching the rest of the draft class make the team without him. Only Williams, because of the injury, and seventh-round receiver DeMarco Sampson didn’t receive significant playing time. Sturdivant’s fellow sixth-round pick, nose tackle David Carter, actually was a key component of the defense as a rookie.

“It was hard, because I have always been able to play,” Sturdivant said. “Even when I was a freshman in college, I played. (Last year) was a learning experience, and hopefully I have learned enough that this year, I can make the team.”

There is a long way to go before that can happen (Sturdivant is also battling key special teamer Reggie Walker at inside linebacker, in addition to the top three guys.) He has embraced the need to be in minicamp this weekend, and came up with an interception in each of the first two practices Friday.

“I just compete and try and get better,” Sturdivant said. “I want to learn the defense even more and compete. That’s all you can do to get a roster spot.

“The defense, I think I am adjusted to it now. To not have an offseason (last year) … this offseason, I think it’ll help a lot.”

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Rookies take the field for the first time

Posted by Darren Urban on May 11, 2012 – 12:39 pm

One practice in — and with just rookies — it’s impossible to know what will happen with any of them.

“It was interesting,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “The enthusiasm was great, the effort was great. I didn’t know quite what they were doing all the time.”

But it was clear Whisenhunt was enjoying the idea of being back on the field, in a totally teaching aspect, knowing that games are months away. That part of his job was lost last year with the lockout. “It makes you appreciate being on the field again,” Whisenhunt said.

— There is no way to draw any conclusions after one practice. Some of the passes were misfired or dropped, but it wasn’t a shock. Some guys looked a little nervous at first. Bobby Massie, as I noted, looks the part of a tackle. Then again, all the draft picks look the part. They better. They of course have to play the part, and we are a long way from being able to tell that. I’ll have a few photos up later today and we will have a video too (later though; We have Calais Campbell’s press conference with which to deal first.)

— There are nine “veterans” taking part, guys who were already on the team’s roster before the draft. That, Whisenhunt said, is everyone on the roster who is eligible to do so. There are others that wouldn’t mind getting the extra work, Whisenhunt said (and I’m sure the coaches wouldn’t mind it either), but the collective bargaining agreement won’t allow it.

— The only “injury” wasn’t; undrafted rookie cornerback James Nixon had to come out because of dehydration. The learning curve extends beyond the playbook for some. Center Ryan Bartholomew was also sitting out after he “dinged” his knee during conditioning workouts recently, Whisenhunt said.

— The biggest name among the tryout players: running back Javarris James, who played for the Colts and who is the cousin of former Cardinals running  back Edgerrin James.

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A midweek minicamp and other offseason dates

Posted by Darren Urban on April 9, 2012 – 3:55 pm

The new collective bargaining agreement changed the offseason, and that has been crystallized now that the Cards have officially announced their offseason dates. The strength and conditioning part of the offseason, which would have been well underway in the past, doesn’t begin (as has been mentioned many times) until Monday, April 16. Veterans no longer can be asked to work weekends in the offseason, so the minicamp that used to kick off the summer on-field work the weekend after the draft instead will now be the final work of the offseason. Those dates are June 12-14, a Tuesday-through-Thursday (and that takes some getting used to.)

Shrinking the allowed organized team activities from 14 days to 10 will mean OTAs are limited to May 22-24, May 29-31 and June 4-7.

As a quick refresher, the minicamp usually has five practices over three days and is mandatory. OTAs are one on-field workout in a day, for about an hour, and are voluntary.

The incoming rookies do get some extra — and initial — work, with a rookies-only minicamp May 11-13.

No training camp dates yet. Sorry.

(And before you ask, there has been no announcement on Fan Fest, although with minicamp not until June, it won’t be happening in May. I’ll put out further details as soon as I know.)

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Wrapping up minicamp

Posted by Darren Urban on May 2, 2010 – 1:38 pm

Well, it’s over, but before I chase the half a day left this weekend, a few thoughts now that minicamp is over for 2010:

— The big thing some fans want to know is who looked good? And who didn’t? The bottom line, it all means very little this time of year. As Michael Adams said yesterday, “Minicamp depth charts don’t mean much.” It means really little for the linemen, who can’t line up and hit. If a quarterback is completing everything, does it resonate even though there is rarely any pass rush? And it’s even more fruitless to pass close attention to the rookies, who aren’t going to have a big impact out of the box regardless because of this team’s philosophy about first-year players. (And yes, there are exceptions. If the QB is terrible or the rookies are awful, sure it might mean bad things. But if they aren’t really bad — which rarely happens — my minicamp “truths” apply).

All that said, you do get a sense of receivers and defensive backs, because they are generally doing what they will always do. And my sense is there wasn’t much to see good or bad. The best receiver, in my mind, was Steve Breaston. The young guys were all decent. No one did anything to stand out from what I saw (although O.J. Jones always seems able to make a play when the ball comes his way).

— Coach Ken Whisenhunt wouldn’t say the Cards are going to run out and get a veteran cornerback. I know there have been reports tying the Cards to 10-year guy Will James, but again, I don’t see the need to rush. Get through OTAs and maybe even get through part or all of training camp before making a move. See what you really have here — and make sure you really sign a guy that can help and isn’t just another guy.

— Speaking of cornerback, Adams made a nice play on Larry Fitzgerald Sunday after being the one beat by Fitz’s dropped bomb Saturday. The best catch by Breaston Sunday came with Adams in perfect position. Those of us on the sideline watching had no idea how Breaston came up with the ball.

— The Cards were trying a bunch of rookies with punt and kickoff returns this weekend, in what looked like an effort just to see if they were OK with the basics. Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Jorrick Calvin, Marshay Green, Max Komar, Alfonso Smith and Juamorris Stewart all took turns catching from the JUGS machine. Those spots have a long, long, long way to go before anything shakes out.

— Dan Williams was working inside on the first-unit dime package, one of the few times a rookie got to play with a first-string group.

I have some other leftover notes to parcel out in the next few days. The charity golf tournament is tomorrow. Rookies are gone until OTAs start May 18. Back to the voluntary strength and conditioning work and, I suppose, the will-Deuce-Lutui-sign-his-tender-offer watch.

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As minicamp arrives

Posted by Darren Urban on April 29, 2010 – 11:24 am

It feels like we were just here, prepping for minicamp, waiting for Beanie Wells to arrive from the airport for his introductory press conference, wondering what Fan Fest would be like coming off a Super Bowl appearance. The years certainly zoom by.

But this minicamp, for so many reasons, seems more intriguing that most. Many years there is a storyline or two that excites; in 2006, Matt Leinart’s first time on the field, last year it was about Beanie. But for sheer number of important and interesting topics to follow, this one may reign. A few of the key things to pay attention to starting tomorrow (minicamp is two practices Friday, two Saturday, one Sunday morning):

Lining up on offense: Adding Alan Faneca to the offensive line mix has really made that unit tops to watch. Faneca will be in there, that much seems obvious. How will Levi Brown do moving to left tackle from the right side? Who is the right tackle — Reggie Wells? Brandon Keith? Jeremy Bridges? Can Herman Johnson make a play? Does Deuce Lutui sign his tender and force the Cards to keep him on the field? Where does Rex Hadnot fit? Offensive line coach Russ Grimm told me “we will play the best five.” Who will that be?

Small-school corners: DRC is already a lock, hailing from Tennessee State. Now the other starting corner is probably going to be Greg Toler, from Saint Paul’s in Virginia. Toler did well in short stints as a rookie, but he has to prove he can hold up. And with Bryant McFadden gone, who steps up as a nickel guy?

Those inside ‘backers: Can Daryl Washington show something early? Will the pressure of replacing Karlos Dansby fall to Paris Lenon? And what about a guy like Ali Highsmith — can he make a run at playing time while Washington grows up in the NFL?

Oh yeah, there’s the quarterback: It’s Leinart’s time to take control of the QB position. But Derek Anderson has a little something to prove too, and he’s probably anxious to show that outside of what had become a toxic situation in Cleveland. Anderson should push Leinart. The Cards really need Leinart to respond in a good way.

There are other things to watch too, like how Dan Williams looks at nose tackle, or if Andre Roberts can outperform unknowns like Ed Gant, or even what the outside linebackers look like with Joey Porter and possibles such as Stevie Baggs and Mark Washington.

(And fans obviously can take a look at the public Saturday practice at Fan Fest; click here for all the details).

Football is here again.

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Bryan Robinson returns

Posted by Darren Urban on April 28, 2010 – 9:10 am

The roster keeps getting bigger.

The Cardinals and veteran starting nose tackle Bryan Robinson have agreed to a one-year contract, bolstering the depth at the position. Robinson is a great presence in the locker room because of his experience, and assuming he remains the starter, he can bridge the gap for rookie Dan Williams to eventually take that role. There was talk about Robinson retiring — a couple of players I talked to thought he was leaning that way — but again, it’s made a difference on the defensive line to have Robinson there to talk to about things.

Having him at nose tackle also puts some pressure on Gabe Watson to up his game, now that Williams is around. And it should do the same for Alan Branch, who is better served at end anyway.

There is still a chance the Cards bring back fullback Dan Kreider, I think, but other than that, I believe the roster is fairly set for minicamp. You know, unless the Cards surprise me again.

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Dockett has arrived

Posted by Darren Urban on April 27, 2010 – 11:04 am

The locker room was buzzing this morning. Certainly, I wasn’t going to do any entire run-down of the roster — and rookies have yet to arrive — but it looked like everyone else was there for John Lott’s final workout before minicamp starts Friday (players are off Wednesday, and have pre-camp physicals Thursday).

That group included Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett for the first time this offseason. Dockett, looking in shape and knocking back a homemade berry smoothie following his workout, said he plans to be around from this point forward. We’ll see how that turns out — other than the minicamp, everything else is voluntary and given his desire for a new contract, Dockett has been scarce the last couple of years for voluntary work — but he looks like he’ll be healthy for this weekend’s work.

He reflected on the changes the Cards have been through since he last spoke back the day after the season.

“We lost a lot of people who had been through big experiences with us, that started from the bottom up,” Dockett said. “A lot of people you can’t replace in terms of leadership ability and toughness, like Anquan (Boldin) … As far as the other guys they got into dream situations as free agents. Karlos (Dansby), we were together since we came in. That’s tough. But the show has got to move on. We can base our success on a few guys. The guys (filling in) know the level those guys played at. They know there are big shoes to fill.”

As for the idea Dockett will have more pressure on him in terms of a leadership role, “I think I’ll have to be more vocal and push myself to the next level. But I don’t think I have to create the will. I think we have guys who know what it takes to win. Maybe I need to be more vocal, but I can led by the way I play. That alone speaks louder than words. We have Adrian, Fitz, we just have to continue to do what we have been doing.

“We’ll have a good team. A lot of people are counting us out early and that’s OK. I think when we fight adversity it makes it better while we fly under the radar.”

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