Look back to the year the Cardinals made the Super Bowl, and open the page of the season in review to the game-by-game starting lineups. On offense, it’s not hard to notice:
LT LG C RG RT
Gandy Wells Sendlein Lutui L. Brown
Gandy Wells Sendlein Lutui L. Brown
Gandy Wells Sendlein Lutui L. Brown
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, all the way through the Super Bowl.
Continuity on the offensive line isn’t the only reason the Cardinals got to the final game that season, but it was a reason. And it’s what popped into my head Tuesday as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin made very clear the offensive line wouldn’t be changing unless there is an injury. No, Jonathan Cooper will not be going back into the lineup at left guard for Ted Larsen. The Cardinals like the job Larsen has done. More importantly Goodwin doesn’t want to change what is working (I believe I’ve mentioned that a time or two) as the Cardinals have had much better line play and, of course, a 3-0 start.
It’s about communication, Goodwin said, and keeping that intact.
Look, Cooper isn’t going anywhere. He’s not a bust. Can’t say that yet. I will be stunned if he is not a starter in 2015. There is still a chance he could play this year. Goodwin expressed his confidence in Cooper as a player, and at this point, Goody has shown he’s not the kind of guy to hand out platitudes. But the slow start in camp of Cooper coming back from that broken leg, and the turf toe that delayed his progress, seems to have set his course in cement for 2014.
Tags: Harold Goodwin, Jonathan Cooper, offensive line, Ted Larsen
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Bruce Arians was short and sweet during his press conference today, which means the news is little and the grind of camp has officially set in. Until games begin to be played, players can start proving themselves on the field against another time and, you know — stuff happens — I’d imagine there won’t be a torrent of news. One thing from today is that guard Jonathan Cooper, tight end Jake Ballard and tackle Nate Potter are all taking the practice off because of sore knees, but all three are expected to practice against Wednesday.
That’ll give Earl Watford a chance to work with the ones all through practice today. He said he’s getting better in cutting down the mental mistakes. How that offensive line filters out will be one of the more intriguing parts of the camp and preseason. Arians usually dressed seven on game days. After the starters, that would mean a swing tackle (Starks?) and a G/C combo (Larsen, probably). So if Cooper starts, does that mean Watford is inactive again? Where does Potter stand, or Bradley Sowell (the latter of whom is probably in trouble roster-wise if Starks proves usable.)
Some of it will have to do with youth and keeping players around if you feel they can develop, as well as the numbers across the rest of the roster. But now that Starks is here, someone is going to be the odd man out. And there could be a couple that end up odd.
– WR John Brown, who has missed three practices with a bad hamstring, will be back out at practice.
– Arians is very happy with the way rookie safety Deone Bucannon is playing at dollar linebacker, which is his spot in the nickel defense.
– There is still a chance the Cardinals could keep five running backs on the roster, depending on special teams. That would seem to open a possible spot for Jalen Parmele. The first four of Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, Jonathan Dwyer and Robert Hughes looks more and more solid.
Tags: Bradley Sowell, Bruce Arians, Deone Bucannon, Earl Watford, Jake Ballard, Jalen Parmele, John Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Max Starks, Nate Potter, offensive line, Ted Larsen, training camp
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On a day in which the Cardinals took their physicals ahead of this week’s mandatory minicamp (with many top players shooting special pictures and video for various forms of TV for the upcoming season, like Fitz below), the Cardinals are still roster shuffling. The team made a change Monday by releasing guard Christian Johnson and re-signing center John Estes. Estes was just cut by the team a couple of weeks ago after the Cards signed tryout players following rookie minicamp.
Of potentially more impactful news is the report the Cardinals tried out veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo Monday. Clabo, 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, could end up being this year’s Eric Winston (at this point, no, I do not expect Winston to return.) Clabo played with Miami last season, but he spent the vast majority of his career with the Falcons and made a Pro Bowl at one point. If he were to sign, it’d throw another potential starter in the mix and would make a cluttered right tackle competition (already with Bradley Sowell, Bobby Massie and Nate Potter) even more chaotic. At some point, someone isn’t going to get many reps, even with training camp coming. We’ll see if Clabo ends up with a deal, or if that becomes a waiting game closer to training camp.
UPDATE: Clabo and the Cardinals did not come to an agreement.
Regardless, minicamp starts tomorrow. And by Thursday afternoon, the veterans will have scattered for the rest of the offseason, returning in late July for training camp.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Christian Johnson, John Estes, minicamp, Nate Potter, offensive line, Tyson Clabo
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The Cardinals got themselves a left tackle. That was the main goal of free agency, and it was accomplished with the Jared Veldheer signing last week. Questions remain about what the offensive line will look like for the Cards in 2014, with veteran Eric Winston still a free agency and Daryn Colledge released. In reality, three of the positions are set, barring something crazy:
LT — Veldheer
LG — Jonathan Cooper
C — Lyle Sendlein
There are questions about the other two spots. At right guard, the Cardinals are hoping 2013 fourth-round pick Earl Watford can step into the starting role after watching all last season. Watford looks the part, a big, athletic, not-sloppy-at-all 295 pounds. On the roster right now, the main competition should come from either Paul Fanaika, who started at the spot all last season after Cooper’s injury, or free-agent signee Ted Larsen. I don’t see them adding another guard in free agency, but we’ll see. The draft is a different animal, but again, I don’t see another guard in the offing.
Right tackle is a different story. With Winston unsigned — and who knows if he is coming back here — the options are Bobby Massie (the leader in the clubhouse right now), Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter. I think they see Sowell as a reserve swing tackle who could back up both spots. Potter is in a big offseason; he had a lot of chances last year to step up and he did not. He’ll be fighting for a spot on the roster. I could see them still signing a vet right tackle as a free agent at some point, and it would definitely be an option in the draft.
The Cardinals are not done trying to upgrade the line, one way or the other.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Daryn Colledge, Earl Watford, Eric Winston, Jared Veldheer, Jonathan Cooper, Lyle Sendlein, Nate Potter, offensive line, Paul Fanaika, Ted Larsen
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There is a really good article posted on SI’s MMQB, written by former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker, about how offensive linemen are graded in the NFL and the inexact science that it is. I recommend it. Cardinals tackle Eric Winston is quoted in the story a few times, noting “It’s very hard to do it independently. Last season was my eighth year and I still can’t always tell who messed up when watching film of other teams.” There is no question that evaluating the offensive line has been the hardest thing to do in my years of writing about an NFL team, for all the reasons contained in the article (although such analysis isn’t going away. I know coaches and players get frustrated sometimes, but in the end, they don’t want to say exactly what is going on either, so they don’t throw anyone under the bus. Totally understandable, but it’s why it’s so hard to get the real picture.)
Noted in the article is the work of profootballfocus.com, how their grades have their own flaws, and even how agents are using those grades in contract talks. Again, interesting stuff and worth the time.
– Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu was an exclusive rights free agent, and even though he has to rehab a torn ACL, it was inevitable the Cards would keep him around. He turned out to be a fantastic waiver acquisition this season. Assuming he comes back OK, I could see him as a long-term component of that defensive line.
– Free agent talks with players from other teams can start Saturday morning, at least with their agents. The Cards will make their position known with a few players, but as GM Steve Keim said, the Cards are going to want a guy in for a visit before pulling the trigger. You want to be able to know the guy a little bit before cutting him a check.
– Free agent tight end John Carlson, cut by the Vikings this week, is reportedly visiting the Cardinals. Not a surprise, at least in terms of the position. The Cards have to stock up on tight ends, both in an attempt to upgrade and to make sure they have enough in the first place with so many with expiring contracts.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Eric Winston, John Carlson, offensive line, Steve Keim
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Today was the deadline for teams to use the franchise tag. There is still a week before free agency officially begins — although teams and free-agents-to-be can start talking Saturday — and there is still time for any of these players who are set to become free to still sign extensions and avoid hitting the market. That said, the tag was a possibility for a handful of prospective left tackle free agents, and all of them ended up dodging that tag Monday.
That means the left tackle market, barring a late extension, will include Kansas City’s Branden Albert, Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe, St. Louis’ Rodger Saffold, Oakland’s Jared Veldheer and Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins. (There are reports out of Oakland that think Veldheer’s non-tagging means he’s close to a deal, but if that is true, why not tag him just in case?)
Profootballfocus.com ranked the tackles on the market in this order: Monroe, Albert, Veldheer, Collins, Saffold. The money to sign these guys will not be insignificant, and the need remains high for such players across the league. But if the Cardinals are looking to grab a vet to plug in, there not only will be options but the ability to have a solid backup choice. That can’t be a bad thing.
Tags: Anthony Collins, Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe, free agency, Jared Veldheer, offensive line, Rodger Saffold
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With “official” talks with free agents allowed March 8 and actually agreements allowed March 11, the time when teams will actually be able to start finalizing such things is still more than a week away. Players are dropping off the “He’s going to be a free agent” list daily, like with the litany of Philadelphia Eagles who have signed extensions the past couple of days. That can still happen to any of these potential free agents being talked about.
It hasn’t cooled the speculation, however. Greg Bedard of SI.com’s MMQB ranked the top 100 free-agents-to-be and also listed what he thought would be the best fits. The Cardinals find themselves mentioned a few times.
– The only current Cardinal scheduled to be a free agent that made the list was linebacker Karlos Dansby. He was at No. 34. Not surprisingly, Bedard’s call for Dansby’s best fit was remaining with the Cardinals. I agree with that. Not only does the system best fit Karlos, but so does his working relationship next to Daryl Washington.
– There are three left tackles on the list from other teams: Kansas City’s Branden Albert (No. 7), Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe (No. 8) and Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins (No. 60). For both Albert and Collins, the Cardinals are listed as the best fit and the Cards are also noted for Monroe along with Miami. Obviously the Cardinals would sign more than one, but it’s obvious to the NFL world this team should be a landing spot for at least one. It will definitely be one of the more intriguing storylines of that first week (or less) of free agency.
– Packers DE/OLB Mike Neal was 95th on the list and the Cards were called his best fit. Neal’s name has already been floated as a potential Arizona target. It makes all the sense in the world if Matt Shaughnessy leaves as a free agent.
– In the most surprising post, for Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, 57th on the list, the Cards are called the best fit. I get it with the possibility free agent Rashard Mendenhall might not return. But the way Bruce Arians and Steve Keim think about running backs, and with Ryan Williams and Stepfan Taylor still around along with Andre Ellington (and we aren’t even talking about someone popping up draft-wise) I don’t see the Cards even thinking about a guy like MJD. Or more specifically, his price tag.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Anthony Collins, Branden Albert, Daryl Washington, Eugene Monroe, free agency, Karlos Dansby, Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Neal, offensive line, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor
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Bobby Massie finished his 2012 rookie season playing pretty well at right tackle after a horrendous start to his career. He seemed like a natural piece of the 2013 offensive line, until the Cards signed veteran Eric Winston as training camp began. Over the season, Massie eventually got a few snaps at right tackle, but he never displaced Winston, who is an unrestricted free agent. If Winston comes back, Massie will be his competition. Massie isn’t playing guard or on the left side, as the Cardinals try to improve the offensive line.
“(Bobby) is a right tackle,” Arians said. “He’s not a left tackle. We experimented with that and he struggled with it. He’s a right tackle and he’s talented. The biggest thing right now is to be more consistent every day in his work habits.”
Does Massie fit in to the 2014 starting line? He very well could. But so much is up in the air, and it goes well beyond Massie and Winston. It’s assumed, and probably not incorrectly, that the Cardinals will seek an offensive lineman or two in free agency. It’s likely they will look into Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert if he reaches free agency (Kansas City GM John Dorsey said Friday the Chiefs have talked to Albert’s agent at the combine about an extension) and reports surfaced Friday that the Cards might also look into Rams tackle.guard Rodger Saffold (Rams GM Les Snead said Friday re-signing Saffold was a priority.)
It is realistic to think the Cards could have new starters at four of five positions on the line by the time games count in 2014 (center Lyle Sendlein is likely safe.). It’s also possible the line doesn’t change. Friday, Arians wouldn’t commit to the Cards having a new player in the lineup (other than the return of injured guard Jonathan Cooper), saying only the line needed to get bigger and stronger.
“Whether it is adding pieces to the puzzle or improving the players we have, we have Coop back, Earl (Watford) to the development, you add those two young guards will make us more athletic and create good competition with the veterans,” Arians said. “We are looking at adding pieces, one tackle, two, whatever we find is best to fit our locker room.”
The Cardinals also probably want to get cheaper at parts of the line, especially if they pay a premium for a free agent. That too can impact the equation — and make a guy like Massie more attractive.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Branden Albert, Bruce Arians, Eric Winston, offensive line, Rodger Saffold, Scouting combine
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Next week, the decision-makers for the Cardinals and the rest of the NFL will head to Indianapolis for the annual Scouting combine. Already teams, including the Cards, have been meeting and ranking their rosters and figuring out what direction they will need to go in. Free agency, which begins March 11 officially (although teams came start to talk to guys from other teams a couple of days before that), will impact what happens in the draft and the rest of the offseason.
But before all that, and before the Cardinals re-sign any more of their own players, here are — in my opinion — the positions that need to be addressed the most over the next few months:
1) Offensive line: It doesn’t hurt that this encompasses multiple positions. Ultimately, it is left tackle that the Cardinals likely need to go after the most. I have no doubt Bradley Sowell can be depth at the position, but clearly the Cards would like to upgrade there. Easier said than done, of course, and we’ll see if it comes in free agency or the draft.
2) Defensive line: You’re not going to win in the NFC West unless both lines of scrimmage are fortified. As it stands now, the defensive line seems to be OK, with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams. But Alameda Ta’amu was an important co-nose tackle with Williams, and he is coming off ACL surgery. Dockett’s age and contract will likely call into question his future after 2014. And with Frostee Rucker a free agent, the Cardinals need depth there, especially after using rotations during the season.
3) Linebacker: This is in part a continuation of the defensive line issue, because whether you consider a pass rusher a linebacker or a defensive end in nickel situations, the Cards still need pass rushers. John Abraham was a godsend in 2013 but he is not getting younger, even if he has another double-digit sack year in his arsenal. Alex Okafor is an unknown quantity at outside linebacker after his lost rookie season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Matt Shaughnessy get away as a free agent. It’s hard to tell, since both missed most of the season, how well Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho fit in the defense as well. That doesn’t even include the inside, where Karlos Dansby could still leave.
4) Tight end: This position probably should be higher on the list, considering all the free agents the Cardinals have. Then again, maybe I’m just used to the Cards just getting along the best they can at tight end to make sure other spots are taken care of first. But Bruce Arians likes to use the tight end in multiple ways and use multiple tight ends. The Cards need bodies, and that’s even if Jim Dray returns. Rob Housler had flashes again last season but this is likely a make-or-break season for him to stay healthy and be consistent.
5) Safety: Even if Yeremiah Bell returns he is older. Tyrann Mathieu is coming off major knee surgery. The depth is thin, and the Cardinals, as you might have heard, had some issues covering tight ends last season. As good as Richard Sherman is, a big reason why the Seahawks secondary is so good is because Earl Thomas is backstopping Sherman and all those corners. Getting a safety like that wouldn’t be too bad.
Bonus) Quarterback: There’s no reason to list QB in the top five because the Cardinals are fine going into next season playing with Carson Palmer. There’s no argument there, really. But reality says the future QB has to be acquired sooner rather than later. This is a draft-only kind of scenario. I don’t see the Cards seeking another trade or anything. But at some point, GM Steve Keim is going to come across a quarterback he likes very much when the Cards are on the clock. And he needs to pull that trigger for down the road.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Bradley Sowell, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, draft, free agency, Frostee Rucker, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, offensive line, Rob Housler, Sam Acho, Tyrann Mathieu, Yeremiah Bell
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Jonathan Cooper won’t play this season. We’ve known that since August. And it has been easy to make the leap — given the injury — that the Cardinals will essentially have two first-round draft picks in 2014, with whomever they choose with their regular first-rounder and the return to the field of Cooper. There is no question that, for a guard, Cooper will have high expectations going into next year.
He knows this, sitting his his locker these days, eating lunch with teammates and finally free — mostly — of the boot he had been wearing since breaking his leg in the preseason.
“Yeah, there are (expectations),” Cooper said, “but, I mean, there always was. All I can do is go out and play to the best of my ability.”
It’s hard not to play a little what-if with Cooper. Had he stayed healthy, he would be the left guard. Daryn Colledge would have stayed on the right side and Paul Fanaika would be on the bench (and realistically, it would have been interesting to see what the roster makeup would have looked like too, because an available Cooper would have meant someone else would have to go.) The Cardinals think their offensive line would have been better, and that’s hard to argue. Then again, Cooper does not play left tackle, and his play would probably not have changed the Levi Brown/Bradley Sowell storyline much.
But he is a key piece. And as the Cardinals move forward to 2014, he is a (delayed) step toward reshaping the line, a line that needs to get better. As the Cardinals continue to figure out what lies in the future of the quarterback position, another possible year of Carson Palmer would be buoyed by better protection up front.
In the meantime, Cooper rehabs. He has been in the weight room a few weeks now, and while he is thrilled to be out of the boot he was forced to wear for so long (pictured below), it hasn’t completely disappeared from use. “Under certain circumstances I still wear it just to be safe,” Cooper said.
He’s also come to grips with watching his team from the sideline, and waiting to see just what kind of impact he can make on this offensive line.
“It was a definitely a lot harder early on when the injury was fresher,” Cooper said. “Now, I understand. I just have to prepare for next year and keep moving forward.”
Tags: Jonathan Cooper, offensive line
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