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Blogs

Winston, Abraham and churning the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2013 – 5:26 pm

At Denny Green’s first training camp in 2004, the roster was in constant flux. That was the camp in which Pete Kendall was axed as he came in to take his physical on report day, and a few weeks later, when the team spent an extra week in Prescott following their Flagstaff stint, there was a revolving door on the roster. I remember a couple of veterans being signed the first day in Prescott and getting released a day or two later, without getting in a game or anything (if memory serves, I think one was DE Joe Tafoya, who a couple years later re-signed and played some with the Cards.)

That’s what went through my mind Thursday with new players coming in and seeing O’Brien Schofield. He walked out on the field for the conditioning test — shaking hands with rookie linebacker Alex Okafor at one point — before going back to the locker room with someone from the front office. It didn’t look promising at the time for the fourth-year linebacker and it wasn’t — he was released on the day when tackle Eric Winston and linebacker John Abraham (along with the inexperienced LB Kenny Rowe) were added.

For those keeping track at home, by the way, the Cards have a pair of open roster spots still, after Ryan Swope was placed on the reserve-retired list.

It was a head-spinning day. The action all came from Steve Keim’s men upstairs, even while the players got in a conditioning test that was mostly a formality in this day and age when guys are always in condition. “It’s a cold business some days,” coach Bruce Arians said, and that was underscored Thursday.

– O’Brien Schofield is a good guy. Great in the locker room. A great story, after blowing out his knee in Senior Bowl practices back in 2010. Worked hard to rehab and to become an pass rushing force at outside linebacker. But he never was able to make that solid step forward, and when he suffered yet another serious injury last year when Darnell Dockett fell on his leg, and a new coaching staff came in, that doesn’t bode well for guys like Schofield. He’d be here if the Abraham signing hadn’t worked out. But with Abraham and Acho and Alexander and Okafor around as outside linebackers — and that doesn’t include Matt Shaughnessy, who spent the offseason working mostly with the linebackers and not the defensive line. The numbers were daunting, and Schofield found himself headed out.

– That Swope is now on the reserve-retired list because of concussions isn’t a shock. He suffered a concussion in an OTA early in the offseason and then was absent from the Cards’ facility. That’s never a good sign. Hindsight is 20/20, but as Keim said, the team knew the risk when they took Swope and decided at the time it was a good decision. They did have two sixth-round picks. Putting Swope on the reserve list does allow the Cards to keep his rights, interesting when Swope says in a statement that he plans to reassess his football career next year. Would he play again?

– Many props nationally for the Cards on getting Abraham and Winston. For the price, for this team. Arians said today talent was not going to be an excuse for this team, and while the other three teams in the division are impressive, Keim is doing what he can to get the Cards into the mix.

– Speaking of the division, Seahawks WR Percy Harvin is having hip troubles and coach Pete Carroll acknowledged surgery could be an option. Yikes.

– Winston, on Sirius XM NFL Radio, talking about his contract dealings with the Cards: “We started these conversations a while ago. Probably around, I would say, the end of OTAs and they kind of progressed through the summer and got to a point where we felt like it was right to go ahead and have a conversation. I flew into Arizona last week and we progressed on terms and we came to this point.”

I’m curious to see how the Abraham stuff came down too.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the roster churn continue. Interesting to hear Arians say he won’t make any judgements on the offensive linemen until Wednesday, when they’ve had some days in pads. Wednesday, the players are off. Would the Cards make more changes then?


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2013 – 11:08 am

It’s that time of the offseason, when players scatter for some time away from the facility and so too does the author of a certain blog. Before that, however, I try and put on my analysis cap and attempt to project – sans injuries – who will be in the starting lineup come Sept. 8 when the Cardinals open the regular season in St. Louis trying to win their first game for a fourth straight season. This one is a little more difficult to sort out. By last year it was easier to get a sense of what Ken Whisenhunt wanted to do and who he wanted to do it with. No real way to know that with Bruce Arians yet.

For starters, he has said time and again judging players in shorts wasn’t enough to make any solid decisions – he said he knew how they could play soccer, for goodness sake – and so I’d expect training camp to be much more important than the past. The Whiz coaching staff, which generally stayed stable, knew very well what they were getting with holdovers. This staff is new and don’t know many of these players. Being unquestioned at your position is rare right now.

That doesn’t even take into account Arians’ desire to play young players. He clearly is much more willing to go with youth. He has also talked often about how the “starters” are more than just 11, especially on defense, thanks to the many packages a team has.

I suppose that’s all a roundabout way of saying this is my best guesstimate, and that’s all. We have defense today, offense tomorrow. There has been lots of speculation out there that the Cards may end up as a 4-3 team, and we’ll see how things are spread around, but they have been working in a 3-4 base the entire offseason.

Remember, this is only an exhibition and not a competition, so please, please, no wagering.

DE – Darnell Dockett. He will get more chances to get on the stat sheet. He will, probably, be used inside in certain packages and not just as a 3-4 end. He definitely is happier than he has been in regards to how he is being used. The Cards are counting on that showing on the field.

NT – Dan Williams. The team poked around potential free agents earlier in the offseason, and Williams came in to workouts needing to shed pounds. But he has, and Arians praised his condition last week. Like the ends, there is talk of Williams getting upfield and attacking more often. It’s so easy to forget he was a No. 1 pick, but the Cards need him to play that way.

DE – Calais Campbell. Had another very good year last season. He too sounds excited about his opportunities in Todd Bowles’ system, although he tends to be a little more muted than Dockett (who isn’t?) Has become one of the best in the league, period. At some point, it’d be nice to see him get a Pro Bowl nod.

ROLB – Lorenzo Alexander. This has been the spot for O’Brien Schofield, who recently told me camp was the place where jobs are won and lost. Could OB still make a starting run? Sure. But Alexander, wooed as a free agent partially on the strength of starting potential, is going to get his shot. I think, given his ability as a leader, he’ll end up there at least at first.

SILB – Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley was an early free-agent sign, but then the Cards drafted Kevin Minter. Minter is the kind of player who needs camp to show what he’s got. Arians thought he was getting too physical in the offseason. But I think Brinkley still holds him off at first, even if Minter pushes for playing time later this season.

WILB – Karlos Dansby. This is kind of cheating, because I don’t even have to factor Daryl Washington into this – Washington is suspended the first four games. When Washington returns, however, it will be very interesting to see how it plays out with him, Dansby, Brinkley and Minter. It’s been suggested Washington could end up outside in some scenario, but at no point in the offseason did Washington do any work there.

LOLB – Sam Acho. A very smart player and great in the locker room. He should start at the outset, but he needs to up his sacks to stay there. Otherwise they are going to start looking to upgrade.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Easiest position to peg.

CB – Jerraud Powers. The Cardinals did a good job building up depth at cornerback. Antoine Cason is slightly more established given Powers’ injury history, but Powers has an Arians connection from Indy and I think that will make a difference. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cason start, though. Another thing to chew on: With so many corners, is one traded before the season starts? You still have Javier Arenas, Justin Bethel, Jamell Fleming, Bryan McCann.

FS – Rashad Johnson. Tyrann Mathieu is going to play in some way, shape or form, including nickel corner sometimes. You just don’t see it any other way. But I don’t see Mathieu starting. Johnson is helped because he played strong safety last season. I can see Johnson moving to strong safety if Mathieu bullies his way into the lineup.

SS – Yeremiah Bell. Bell brings experience and he knows Bowles well from their days in Miami. He is a short-term solution, though.

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How those draft choices could fit

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2013 – 9:46 am

It’s still way early. Bruce Arians won’t even commit to starting positions — which isn’t a surprise — and training camp will sort through players much better than any of this summer stuff. Players can’t even hit right now, and so this isn’t really football, as the coaches will be quick to point out. But this team will be much different than the past few years, when rookies had a climb akin to Mount Everest to jump into the fray from the outset. Arians wants to use young players and this team wants to, philosophically, grow from a younger base.

That said, what exactly can be expected from this draft class sitting here in June (and with minicamp starting tomorrow, with the long anticipated Fan Fest Tuesday night)? We know, barring a shocking development, first-round pick Jonathan Cooper is going to be the starter at left guard. The only other player that seems to be a lock for significant playing time at this juncture is third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu, and part of that has to do with his skill set and the existing roster situation at safety. Mathieu is getting his reps, and last week spent more time on the main field with the veterans (whereas he had been starting out on the second field with the inexperienced players — and yes, I’m trying really hard not to call it the JV field.)

The only other draft pick who has been working mostly on the main field has been second-round linebacker Kevin Minter. Minter is an interesting guy to keep an eye on. Second-round picks are supposed to step in right away and do something. But the Cards, who signed Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby and still have Daryl Washington, all of a sudden have a ton of options at inside linebacker (and that doesn’t even include veteran Reggie Walker, who has found himself on the second field this summer looking very much out of place.) Inside linebacker will be one of those places where the spotlight will shine in camp, because they all can’t play.

The rest of the draft class is working on the second field and have a steeper hill to climb. That said, I can totally see a scenario where outside linebacker Alex Okafor, guard Earl Watford and running back Stepfan Taylor find their way into the mix. Arians made it clear he wanted his depth to be such that the Cards didn’t have to rely on a rookie, and that gives those three some room to breath (and since Taylor has basically been absent so far because of school, he has some ground to make up.) It’s easy to see Watford’s time being a year away. Okafor could step in, but with Matt Shaughnessy pretty clearly playing OLB and not DE, along with Sam Acho, O’Brien Schofield and Lorenzo Alexander at OLB, Okafor has to get through some guys on the depth chart.

The last three draft picks have a harder row to hoe. Wide receiver Ryan Swope needs to get back on the field first. Running back Andre Ellington has a lot of competition. Tight end D.C. Jefferson could make inroads given the lineup at his position, but he remains fairly raw. The biggest thing in all their favor? Arians seems willing to live with growing live with inexperience, which wasn’t there before.

– Apropos of nothing, the Jets hired former Cardinals GM Rod Graves as their senior director of football administration under their GM John Idzik. The move was long anticipated. Graves and Idzik have known each other from their youth when they both worked as Eagles ballboys as their fathers worked for Philly. Idzik worked under Graves with the Cardinals in the Denny Green era as the Cards’ cap guy.

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100 days away

Posted by Darren Urban on May 31, 2013 – 9:29 am

This isn’t easy to absorb, since the Cardinals still have a full week of OTAs and a mandatory minicamp to go (and I still have a vacation to take), but today marks 100 days until the Cards open the regular season in St. Louis.

(To take a trip down memory lane of season openers past, check out this photo gallery. Remember Fitz’s first NFL catch on the flea-flicker in St. Louis in 2004, seen below?)

There is much left to do before that day of course. Not only do the Cardinals finish out the offseason work but there is still training camp to go. There’s too much time left to really know how this roster is going to break down, but there will be interesting battles for playing time coming. Has Lorenzo Alexander usurped O’Brien Schofield for good? How will all the inside linebackers fit together once Daryl Washington’s suspension ends (although that’s a story for well beyond the opener)? How will Levi Brown look once he is completely cleared to play?

Most importantly: How will the new-look Cardinals perform when the games count for real? In 100 days, we’ll find out.

– Many have asked about the Larry Fitzgerald comments regarding the health of Ryan Swope. As I have indicated to some, I frankly hadn’t been looking for Swope one way or the other of late. On-field work resumes next week, and at some point, coach Bruce Arians will be available to talk again. I’d guess it will be addressed then.

An NFL.com story talking about Ken Whisenhunt, now the Chargers offensive coordinator, working with QB Philip Rivers. “It always starts with the quarterback,” Whiz says, and we all know not only is that true, but that Whiz lived with the consequences of it.

– Speaking of Whiz and one of his former signal-callers, wondering where Max Hall is these days? Trying to QB in Canada.

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Delving into the first Arians minicamp

Posted by Darren Urban on April 23, 2013 – 4:42 pm

The Cardinals are done with the first day of their three-day voluntary minicamp. The tempo for the almost two-hour work in the afternoon was crisp. Coach Bruce Arians said there were fewer mistakes than might have been anticipated. The only player not there was Larry Fitzgerald, but Arians knew that he wouldn’t be and said Fitz would be back on Wednesday. A couple other tidbits:

– T Levi Brown and LB O’Brien Schofield weren’t taking part as they continue their rehab from 2012 injuries. Arians said there was no reason to push it. Schofield should be back soon. Arians just wants to make sure Brown is available by the Fall. Arians said he might consider putting Nate Potter at guard at some point, but there is plenty of time to figure that out. Arians said a player should be able to play either guard or tackle on the same side.

– QB Carson Palmer said 75 percent of the offense has been introduced to the players, although there is a long way to go to make it work in practice. This is the teaching/learning phase, clearly, although the pace of the workout was noticeably quick.

– With Schofield out (and for all we know, even if Schofield was available) it was free agent linebacker Lorenzo Alexander lining up on the outside with Sam Acho. Daryl Washington and Jasper Brinkley were the inside linebackers. The first string secondary was Jerraud Powers with Patrick Peterson at cornerback and Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell at safety.

– Washington obviously won’t be able to play the first four games because of his suspension. Arians said it was too early to know who will be the starter in Washington’s absence. “We will get Daryl ready to start just like I did with Ben Roethlisberger (before his suspension in 2010) and whoever was taking his place in September was more than ready to,” Arians said.

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Work to do on the linebacking lineup

Posted by Darren Urban on February 11, 2013 – 11:46 am

With the news, reported multiple places, that the Cards are a little more than $3 million over the salary cap about a month away from needing to get in compliance, general manager Steve Keim still has some maneuvering to do. Knowing now that new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is sticking with the 3-4 base defense, the linebacker corps remains a crucial part of the equation.

What that means going forward is the question as free agency/cap compliance/the offseason gets closer.

Daryl Washington, the Pro Bowler and burgeoning star, isn’t going anywhere. He got his new contract last year and is the cornerstone of the position. But beyond that? The biggest part of the to-do list is got to be the other inside linebacker spot next to Washington. Paris Lenon is an unrestricted free agent, but he is also going to turn 36 in November. With a new staff, those are often the kind of players that are left to move on, or brought back later in the offseason. But Lenon has been playing, which in Stewart Bradley’s two Cardinals’ seasons hasn’t been the case. Bradley took a reduction in salary last season of 50 percent and still didn’t play much on defense at all, relegated to mostly special teams. Again, that could change with a new defensive coordinator, but up against the cap and with Bradley owning a $6.5 million salary cap number for 2013, his return under that deal doesn’t make sense. At best, renegotiation/pay cut would be coming, although the Cards may just part ways. UPDATE: I’m not sure why I forgot to mention Reggie Walker, who played solidly this season. Walker is under contract for another season and surpassed Bradley on the depth chart.

(That’s the dangerous part of this process, however. Bradley would still cost $3M of dead cap space if released, which is still a savings of $3.5M, but it’s not like it’s zero impact. The cap hit has always got to be considered with moving on from any player or trading him. Sometimes it can be spread out over a couple of years, but it’s still a hit of worthless space.)

O’Brien Schofield and Sam Acho, your outside starters, still have to prove themselves to the new staff too, although the decision to go with a 3-4 base helps both tremendously. They might have a much harder time in a 4-3 setup finding a place to play.

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Dockett there for Schofield after freak play

Posted by Darren Urban on November 28, 2012 – 4:37 pm

O’Brien Schofield was back in the locker room Wednesday after practice, getting around after ankle surgery on a motorized scooter that looked much more fitting for one of those older women on a late night TV commercial selling such things than a 250-pound NFL linebacker.

“At first it was frustrating because I couldn’t believe I got hurt again, but I tried to put it in perspective,” Schofield said. “This gives me time to get my shoulders right, my knees right and completely heal up.”

Schofield only had ligament damage – it was torn. There was no fracture, but he wasn’t going to be able to come back. Still, not fun considering the freak nature of the play, where teammate Darnell Dockett fell on his leg as both were chasing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the game at Green Bay.

Dockett, though, apologized, even if he didn’t have to.

“Dock has been good through this,” Schofield said. “He’s been hitting me up, checking to see how I have been doing. He put my number on the back of his helmet, which was cool. He told me when I started rehabbing, if there was anything I need, just let him know.

“It wasn’t his fault at all. It was a freak accident. The way he has been, I appreciate his generosity.”

Dockett downplayed his post-injury role.

“That’s my brother,” Dockett said. “I’m like that with all my teammates. If they need anything to get better, especially off of injuries and stuff, I want to help.”

Dockett said he was going to let Schofield use his personal hyperbaric chamber to help speed Schofield’s recovery.

“He’s a good player, he came back (from a bad knee) and had a freak accident,” Dockett said. “We were just trying to do the same thing at the same time. As a friend, as a leader, as a brother outside of football, anything I can do to help him get back. He would do the same for me.”


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Talley is roster replacement for Schofield

Posted by Darren Urban on November 7, 2012 – 9:00 am

The Cardinals officially put linebacker O’Brien Schofield on injured reserve, ending his season, but the man they brought in to replace him on the roster wasn’t a linebacker. Instead, the Cardinals re-signed defensive end Ronald Talley, who was released by the team at the end of the preseason. The Cardinals already were carrying an extra linebacker after promoting Zack Nash recently, so numbers-wise, it’s not out of whack.

The Cardinals also lost cornerback Crezdon Butler off the practice squad when the Buffalo Bills signed him to their active roster. So the Cards brought back cornerback Greg McCoy to the practice squad, whom they had released from that spot recently to bring back Butler.

The team also officially announced the injury settlement with offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges, releasing him off of injured reserve. Bridges is free to sign and play with any team other than the Cardinals. In theory, Bridges could come back eventually, but I’m not sure that will happen.


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Schofield is out for season

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2012 – 7:13 pm

Earlier Monday, Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he didn’t know the status of linebacker O’Brien Schofield’s ankle injury and was waiting for an MRI. The news apparently wasn’t good. Schofield tweeted tonight his season was over.

“I’m out for the season. I’m sorry Cardinal fans. But I will be back and stronger then ever. This yr was just a preview of (what) is to Come,” was Schofield’s Twitter message.

UPDATE: Whisenhunt confirmed Schofield’s season-ending injury Tuesday.

Schofield got hurt after getting twisted up with teammate Darnell Dockett as the two were going after a sack of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (pictured below). Rodgers escaped, and now the freak play has sidelined Schofield.

It’s a blow to the Cardinals’ defense after they finally got Schofield in the starting lineup this season. Quentin Groves is the logical player to replace Schofield in the starting lineup. The Cardinals also have Jamaal Westerman and rookie Zack Nash, but you’d figure they will use the bye week to add someone to the roster. It’s also a tough blow for Schofield, who’s been dealing with injuries since he came into the league, most notably the ACL injury he suffered right before he was drafted in 2010. Schofield has worked hard to make himself into a viable starter in the league. While it’s uncertain exactly what happened to his ankle that would end his season, it sounds like it will be another long road to recovery for Schofield.


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Potter to start, Kolb “sooner” and some bye notes

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2012 – 12:23 pm

With the bye week underway, the Cardinals have a slightly different schedule. Coach Ken Whisenhunt met with the media today but the players are off. They are in tomorrow (normally a Tuesday off day) for a practice and again Wednesday before being off Thursday through Sunday. But with this basically being the halfway break of the season, Whiz had some good tidbits coming out of his press conference:

– Nate Potter not only did “real well” at left tackle in Green Bay but he has likely earned the starting left tackle job. That is not a surprise. Whether he can keep it long-term — or, as I am already being asked, whether he could supplant the injured Levi Brown and have Brown move back to the right side in 2013 — are all questions that can’t be answered right now. Potter has had a good game and a good start is important. Let’s see how that plays out the rest of this season.

– That means two rookie tackles now, with Bobby Massie on the right side.

– Whiz talked more about making changes, but there wasn’t a lot of specifics. There won’t be either — even if Whiz does make changes, I’m sure they will stay fairly hush-hush for the sake of the Falcons’ game.

– Whisenhunt still doesn’t have a timetable on the return of quarterback Kevin Kolb (ribs), although he said it would be “sooner rather than later.” Practicing right now for Kolb would be about managing the soreness, which is always something kind of important when you are talking about a QB who can and will be hammered by 290-pound linemen. The next home game, Thanksgiving weekend against the Rams, would be the six-week mark since Kolb’s injury. Possible? I have no earthly idea right now.

– There was no update on the ankle injury to linebacker O’Brien Schofield, although Whiz confirmed Schofield’s comment that he’d have an MRI today. If he has a John Skelton-esque ankle problem, that could cost him a game, although if you’re going to get hurt, doing it right before the bye is supposed to be the right time.

– Running back Beanie Wells can’t play again until the Nov. 25 Rams game, but he can begin to practice this week. “Just seeing him go through the process … I’m sure there will be some soreness in the toe,” Whisenhunt said. “I just want him to get started so he can have a good week of practice next week (before the Falcons) as well.”

Whiz said he expects the off time has also helped Wells’ knee, which did not seem right even before his toe injury. “He’s got to put the helmet and the pads on and actually do it from a football perspective to know for sure, but it appears that way, which is a big benefit,” Whisenhunt said.

– I’ve gotten a lot of questions on this, but yes, it appears the Cards have released or are about to release offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges. Bridges confirmed this on an Instagram account. Bridges had been on injured reserve after hurting his thumb in the preseason, so the only way he could be released would be through an injury settlement. If so, he is free to sign with another team, and he did indicate in comments he is hoping to play again. There has been no official word but that is not a surprise. The Cardinals did not make an official announcement when they injury settled with quarterback Rich Bartel earlier this season. (UPDATE: The move was confirmed Monday afternoon when the NFL released its daily transactions list.)

– Wide receiver Michael Floyd will continue to get more playing time, Whisenhunt said. That is not a surprise at all.

– On the run to LaRod Stephens-Howling run into the line on third-and-1 at the Green Bay 2-yard line that was stuffed, forcing a field goal: “There is no question a bigger body can help in that situation, but yesterday’s (issue) wasn’t because of LaRod,” Whisenhunt said. “It was because we didn’t block in the hole the right way. We weren’t physical enough at the point. That’s bad technique. That’s not the scheme, that’s the execution of the scheme.”


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