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Friday before the Bears, a preseason meme

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2017 – 2:49 pm

The Bears, the Cardinals and really, who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bullspit? Bullspit!

I know it’s only Week 2 for the Bears — and frankly, for the Cardinals, who aren’t marching their main guys out for a half until next week’s Week 4/Week 3 game in Atlanta — so again, this is more of a ramp-up game. Bruce Arians isn’t calling plays until next week (that falls on QB coach Byron Leftwich again.) There will be around 20 plays for the starters, although as usual it could be less if each unit is effective. The biggest story in the game will probably be Chicago QBs Mike Glennon vs. Mitchell Trubisky, so we can see how Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson and company can mess with the immediate Bears future.

(In ’06, that Bears preseason game was Matt Leinart’s second appearance in the NFL, after playing on only a couple of days of practice — he signed late — in New England the week before. Leinart vs Warner. Those were the days.)

— It’ll be the first game for left tackle D.J. Humphries. Arians said Humphries did fine in his first practice Wednesday. I thought he had a slow start to Thursday’s work. As with the whole offensive line, he needs to ramp up — although again, with so much camp, there is plenty of time to get ready.

— Speaking of getting ready, the same goes for linebacker Karlos Dansby, who has been bothered by a leg issue. Deone Bucannon is ostensibly still on target to return to practice likely after the preseason games are over. Maybe a couple of days before. That inside linebacker crew could be a juggling situation for the first game. Haason Reddick is clearly still learning, and Scooby Wright, while solid on special teams, has shortcomings on defense. Both are players to watch against the Bears.

— DT Robert Nkemdiche has played well in the preseason but this week, the coaching clearly got harder. Nkemdiche is doing the right things as far as effort and intensity. But the technique must improve, because that is what will beat the better players in the regular season. Everyone has the talent.

— Others I’ll be watching in particular this week: Both punters; Kerwynn Williams on another punt return or two; the down-depth-chart receivers like Carlton Agudosi and Chris Hubert in particular since Brittan Golden (groin) likely won’t play; Justin Bethel and Tramon Williams (I haven’t forgotten about CB No. 2); and more Budda Baker.

— It’d be nice to see a little David Johnson but not too much.

— I’ll be curious to see how much John Brown plays. Smoke did much more in practice this week. But he certainly is not 100 percent, and the trainers keep a close eye on that quad injury. Still, Brown made some plays Thursday, and after one touchdown Larry Fitzgerald made sure everyone knew it was Smoke and then made sure to give Brown the side-five.

— Fitz, by the way, seemed like he was having a great time Thursday. For a guy who is usually tops on the list of wishing training camp wasn’t so long, it didn’t seem to be impacting him. That’s probably good, because after the game, there’s still one week left.


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After practice: Nkemdiche as teaching tool

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2017 – 4:51 pm

There is a flip side to teaching Robert Nkemdiche, who, make no mistake, is still trying to learn how to play his position on the defensive line. Every day, you can see Nkemdiche’s power and athleticism and effort as he tries to bury his disappointing rookie season, but in technique and discipline (making sure he doesn’t jump offsides), he is still in-progress.

But the power/athleticism/effort also gives offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin a powerful tool when it comes to teaching his young players. Specifically, rookie fourth-round guard Dorian Johnson, who many times has been set up to face Nkemdiche. Before these matchups, Goodwin talks to Nkemdiche as much as Johnson, and given the intensity in which Nkemdiche attacks, it’s some serious on-the-job training.

The final one-on-one rep was a Nkemdiche win, pushing Johnson way back. Clearly Johnson isn’t ready to play this season, but this is how he gets better, and that Nkemdiche can help in the cause is an interesting turn, given where he was at as a player last season when he was a rookie.

— Left tackle D.J. Humphries was out working with the first unit most of practice for the first time since hurting his hamstring. “This whole situation kind of taught me to listen to my body a little bit, that you’re not in college anymore,” Humphries said. “It felt good today.”

— Wide receiver John Brown did look better at practice, making a handful of receptions in 11-on-11.

— Veteran receiver Jeremy Ross has picked up his play the last couple of days. And he looked like he was running ahead of J.J. Nelson Wednesday.

— Tight end Ifeanyi Momah made another nice reception and like previous camps, has proven himself as a receiver. They already like his special teams work. He should have a spot on the roster. He needs to continue to work on his blocking.

— LB Terrence Waugh left practice with some sort of leg injury.

— Earlier in the day, Bruce Arians noted that the best down-the-depth-chart receiver had been “‘Little Smoke” Chris Hubert. “He’s been wide-ass open,” Arians said. “We just haven’t hit him.” Early in practice, Hubert ran a nice route to the right sideline of the end zone, and he was wide open. Blaine Gabbert’s pass was too wide, however.

— Patrick Peterson made a nice interception, running the route ahead of wide receiver Jaron Brown. Safety Harlan Miller also had a pick. Rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, back from an ankle issue, had an impressive diving TD catch.

— The first-team offense ran a quick screen to Jaron Brown. Tyrann Mathieu smelled it out and would have made a quick line-of-scrimmage tackle, if, you know, they were actually tackling. “C’mon dog, you gotta set it up better than that!” Mathieu yelled. “Too easy! Too easy!”


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Friday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2017 – 3:02 pm

Finally, some starters.

It could be quick for either of the units against the Raiders. As in years past, if the Cardinals carve up Oakland for an 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession, or the defense forces a couple of quick punts, I could see Bruce Arians sitting down his main guys. To me, this game is important for the offense and the collective confidence. Carson Palmer sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices, so I’m curious to see how that comes together – especially since the receiving crew, beyond Fitz, has been up and down and injured in camp thus far.

Defensively, it sure seems the confidence is there. Robert Nkemdiche is breaking out. Tyrann Mathieu is full-fledged Honey Badger-y. And Palmer and Bruce Arians believe this has been Patrick Peterson’s best camp yet.

Peterson, as usual, is thinking big.

“If you want to be remembered somewhere where you can be forever – which is Canton – those are the things I can control, make sure to continue building up my résumé,” Peterson said (pictured here with Cardinals Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams).

Some other things to think about before the Cards get to a second preseason game, and the Raiders play their first:

— The players in particular I want to watch in the game, even if it is for limited time: CB Justin Bethel, LB Haason Reddick, DT Olsen Pierre, G Evan Boehm, RT Jared Veldheer, WR Jaron Brown and all three QBs: Palmer, Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert.

Some played last week, some did not. Veldheer still hasn’t played right tackle in a game. Seeing Bethel under the lights is important. I want to see how Gabbert follows up with his impressive debut and how Stanton responds to all the Gabbert discussion.

— Arians again praised Stanton all week. I also thought it was interesting to hear Arians speak about Stanton and his hits and misses in practice:

“There has been an interception or two, some are not his fault,” Arians said. “Sometimes when you are running with those twos and threes, guys aren’t where they are supposed to be and you try to force one. I do like that, see if you can get it in that window and see if you can or can’t. No big deal if you throw a pick.”

Dunno if that applies to preseason games as well.

— Punter is something to watch as well. Arians said he wanted to see more from either Matt Wile or Richie Leone (preferably both, but one is enough). I’d guess they will split the punts again. If you can’t punt well at University of Phoenix Stadium – where this and next week’s games are – that’s a red flag.

— We’ll get to see Kerwynn Williams get run as a return man. We know Williams can return kicks OK. How he will do on punts – and whether he could manage that job with T.J. Logan out – is what is in the spotlight.

— Two weeks of training camp left at the stadium. As of now, seven practices are scheduled to be open to the public: Monday through Thursday next week, and Monday through Wednesday the week after.

— Finally, for those who are looking for my constant in-game tweeting, that will drop off quite a bit in the preseason. For the next four games, with Paul Calvisi in the radio booth doing play-by-play, I will be on the sideline as the reporter for the radio broadcasts on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. (And for those who don’t like my constant in-game tweeting, you win!)


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After practice: Fitz strikes again

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2017 – 5:34 pm

Ron Wolfley wasn’t around, but Larry Fitzgerald was feisty, and he took it out on everyone else. First there was a tackle of quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich (whom we learned earlier in the day would be calling the plays against the Raiders on Saturday). Then later, Brittan Golden was up.

It started innocently enough. Fitz starting yelling into the stands to get the attention of Golden’s young daughter, who was sitting with Golden’s wife off by themselves, but close enough to hear Fitz. Once Fitz figured she was looking, he went to work, playfully taking down Golden and then rolling on top of him for good measure. When he got up, he made sure to tell Golden’s daughter he was stronger than her daddy. All Golden could do was shake his head and smile.

— For a second straight practice, David Johnson put a hella-jump cut on rookie linebacker Haason Reddick. There’s no better teaching tool for Reddick at his new position than having to deal with Johnson on a daily basis, I suppose.

— Tyrann Mathieu, on one play in the pull-up-don’t-tackle practice, rolled past receiver Jaron Brown on a TD catch at the goal line. The Badger made sure everyone knew it wouldn’t have been a completion in a regular situation. “I would’ve knocked his teeth out,” Mathieu bellowed.

— It wasn’t the best practice for quarterback Drew Stanton. Carson Palmer had a rest day, and Stanton couldn’t seem to connect often enough, especially in the red zone drill. He was intercepted once by Patrick Peterson on a pass to Fitzgerald in the end zone, although it looked like Fitzgerald was looking for a fade and Stanton was looking back shoulder.

— The pass rushers-versus-offensive linemen one-on-one was interesting. I can see why they like rookie Will Holden. His footwork looked solid when he was going, locking up the third-stringers he saw. Robert Nkemdiche looked explosive. He and Frostee Rucker beat guard Evan Boehm on back-to-back tries at one point.

— The Cardinals were done early. Really early. The final horn blew at 3:48 p.m. I’m guessing they were efficient in what they wanted to get accomplished. I’m sure Arians will touch on it tomorrow.


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After practice: Peterson picks and some Smoke

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2017 – 5:59 pm

The day off seemed to do good things for some guys on the practice field Thursday (and it didn’t hurt that the humidity, which was a killer Tuesday, was way better.) Some key guys looked good, not the least of whom being wide receiver John Brown. Brown looks past his health concerns. He is blazing when he runs around out there. One play in particular stood out to me Thursday, a 31-yard route to the pylon in which Brown went up and made the catch of a Drew Stanton throw with his hands, Justin Bethel right there in tight coverage. (There’s a picture of it below.) A healthy and fast Smokey Brown is a good Smokey Brown.

— Patrick Peterson made a couple of picks, once in a one-on-one drill with Brown (which is so hard for a defensive back) and again in 7-on-7 and in both cases it looked like Peterson was the one running the route.

— Robert Nkemdiche blew up a running play in 11-on-11 and looked explosive in one-on-one drills. It’s one day — and yes, in the video, he’s going against raw rookie Dorian Johnson — but the defensive tackle is going in the right direction. Nkemdiche tossed the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Johnson to the ground during one matchup.

— WR Aaron Dobson pulled up after a play with some sort of left leg issue and he was not happy. It’ll be interesting to see if it is anything serious.

— RB Chris Johnson joined Carson Palmer with a day off. Tackle Jared Veldheer also wasn’t out there.

— There was a play in which the pass protection started to break down and quarterback Blaine Gabbert basically had to sling a pass without any ability to step into the throw — and it was a laser to a wide-open Chad Williams 18 yards down the field. Gabbert unquestionably has arm strength, that’s for sure.

— If there is any question about Larry Fitzgerald’s mindset, I leave you with this: Fitz makes a catch coming across the field. Wide open. He leans a bit forward and ends up falling to the ground. Fitz was angry. “Stay on your damn feet!” he barked at himself.


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 22, 2017 – 11:33 am

What’s frightening – at least to someone that hasn’t been on vacation yet – is that the first practice of 2017 training camp is exactly one month away. This is where I’d like time to slow down a bit. But this is also the time, before I take a step away for a bit and with the Cardinals a couple weeks already gone after wrapping minicamp, that I take a too-early shot at what the starting lineups will be Sept. 10 in Detroit.

Today, we’ll do defense. Tomorrow, the offense (right here). Most of these are pretty obvious. There are no real titanic battles on the camp docket. These can change if Steve Keim chooses to bring in a vet, but right now, nothing is imminent.

DT – Josh Mauro. Quietly, Mauro a) started almost all last season and b) has become one of the favorites of this coaching staff. No gaudy stats, but DL coach Brentson Buckner said Mauro is always effective when he’s on the field.

NT – Corey Peters. Speaking of quietly, Peters too played well in 2016. Came back strong off his Achilles injury. Proving to be a solid 2015 free-agent signing, even if he missed a year.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Always a chance Robert Nkemdiche could slip in, but I’m guessing Rucker – now healthy when he wasn’t in 2016 – takes hold of this spot, at least in the beginning. There will be plenty of rotating across the defensive line at all three spots.

OLB – Chandler Jones. No more uncertainly. Jones has his long-term contract, and so you pencil him in.

ILB – Haason Reddick. This is supposed to be Deone Bucannon’s spot, and there is still a chance he’s ready by the opener. I’m going to guess it’ll take Buc a little longer than that to be ready, and so I think the rookie will be the anti-Nkemdiche/Humphries and be in the lineup from jump.

ILB – Karlos Dansby. Dansby is supposed to be a bridge guy to the Bucannon/Reddick ILB lineup. But he still sees himself as “legendary,” and to the benefit of the Cards, he’ll work as hard as he can to stay in the lineup.

OLB – Markus Golden. Had a breakout second season, leading the team in sacks. Will be an interesting year too, since he (like David Johnson) will be eligible for a contract extension after the season, with 2018 his final year under contract.

CB – Patrick Peterson. A star, and he’s earned that title. Sometimes he gives up something, but that happens when you cover the other team’s best every week. Most of the time, Peterson makes the play.

CB – Justin Bethel. One of the biggest questions. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if Bethel is not the starter against the Lions. If Keim were to sign a veteran on defense, this is the spot I would bet it’d be for. All that said, Bethel looked better than Brandon Williams in the offseason, he is healthy, and if the roster stays as is, Bethel makes the most sense in this role.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals need full-on Honey Badger. That is all.

SS – Antoine Bethea. There are options at the other safety spot. I don’t see Budda Baker in this role, not yet. Tyvon Branch remains an option. But there is a reason the Cardinals signed Bethea, and I think they will want his experience and leadership on the field.


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Peterson, David Johnson are top 20

Posted by Darren Urban on June 19, 2017 – 6:58 pm

The NFL Network’s top 100 list is coming to a close, and the Cardinals don’t figure to have anyone in the top 10. But they did have a couple players land in the top 20 Monday night.

Patrick Peterson went 6-for-6 in his career on the list, landing at 19th overall — right around where he has been the past couple of seasons. His ranks, going backwards in time, previously were No. 18, No. 19, No. 22, No. 33 and No. 55. During the season, Peterson had three interceptions, also went 6-for-6 in Pro Bowls during his career, and was again considered one of the best (if not the best) “traveling” cover guys in the league — in other words, a cornerback who follows around the opposition’s top receiver.

Then there was David Johnson, who in his second year, debuted on the top 100 list at No. 12. Like Peterson, a high ranking was a no-brainer for Johnson. Here’s a guy who likely would have been in the MVP talk if the Cardinals hadn’t slumped record-wise, and who would have been the first NFL player to have 100 scrimmage yards in every game of a season had he not suffered his scary (but ultimately, not devastating) knee injury early in the season finale. Johnson had 1,279 rushing yards, 80 catches for 879 yards and 20 total touchdowns. He led the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage.

Linebacker Chandler Jones was No. 85 on the list, while wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was No. 45 as the only other two Cardinals to appear.


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Across from Patrick Peterson, a revolving door

Posted by Darren Urban on June 16, 2017 – 10:05 am

It’s the dead time between the end of minicamp and training camp, and again, there is the question: Who will be the cornerback starting across from Patrick Peterson? As it stands, Justin Bethel is the leader in the clubhouse, although he was that at this time last year (despite a foot injury) and he never started a game. As we talked about in the latest Cardinals Underground podcast, Bethel has looked better than he had. Health helps. But until the pads come on and the games count, it’s impossible to know for sure.

But it got me to thinking about the position since Patrick Peterson arrived. Peterson, the fifth overall pick in 2011, had a learning curve himself when he was drafted. He wasn’t a great cornerback as a rookie, but he was solid. And he started all 16 games. His cohort opposite? It has not been the same player two years in a row, and that’s a trend that will continue this season regardless of whether it is Bethel or a veteran who might sign before camp or whoever.

2011 — Richard Marshall 9 starts/A.J. Jefferson 7 starts: Jefferson actually was the starter coming out of camp, but he faded quickly and was replaced by the veteran Marshall. Marshall was OK. He was probably better known as one of the better punt return blockers that got Peterson loose for his spectacular rookie year as a return man.

2012 — William Gay 15/Greg Toler 1: Gay signed as a free agent but was up and down. He immediately went back to Pittsburgh, where he was better suited and still starts. Then again, 2012 wasn’t good for any of the Cardinals. Remember 4-0 that year?

2013 — Jerraud Powers 16: One of the first free agents signed after Steve Keim and Bruce Arians took over. Powers was steady, although he was probably better suited in the slot. The Cardinals had Tyrann Mathieu plans there, so Powers dutifully worked the outside, and he was fine.

2014 — Antonio Cromartie 16: Cro was the ultimate Keim blue light special. Came in, was mostly good (although there were a few high-profile hiccups, especially later in the season when the team struggled) and made the Pro Bowl. But he wasn’t going to re-sign for cheap again, the Jets made him a big offer, and Cromartie started showing his age in New York.

2015 — Powers 13/Justin Bethel 3: Powers was disappointed but a team player when the Cards upgraded to Cromartie, and stepped back in the breech as the only two-time Peterson companion (Bethel’s starts came during Powers’ injuries.) Again, he was solid for a team that made the NFC Championship. But the Cardinals wanted to upgrade, there was belief Bethel could take a step forward, and Powers was allowed to leave in free agency when the sides couldn’t match up on the money it would take to keep him around.

2016 — Marcus Cooper 13/Brandon Williams 3: We know the story by now. Bethel was the pick, but was hurt. Mike Jenkins was the likely starter before blowing out his knee in preseason. The veteran Cooper was the late trade before the season, and got the spot after the rookie Williams showed he was clearly not ready after being the early choice. Cooper left as a free agent, getting a surprisingly nice deal in Chicago. And here we are again.


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Peterson as punt returner — again

Posted by Darren Urban on June 2, 2017 – 8:54 am

An NFL lifetime ago, when Bruce Arians was simply a good offensive coordinator with the Steelers and the Cardinals were trying to turn Kevin Kolb into their long-awaited replacement for Kurt Warner, Patrick Peterson electrified the league with his punt returns. He scored four times that season and would’ve had five, were it not for a shoe-tip trip tackle in the season finale.

Peterson’s effectiveness at punt returning hasn’t been the same since. There are plenty of arguments why, whether it’s a safety issue — no one wants Peterson to become Jason Sehorn the sequel — or a blocking issue — Peterson intimated as much during an appearance on the “Bickley and Marotta” show earlier this week — or something else. But there is one thing Peterson still has that can’t necessarily be said for anyone else on the roster when it comes to punt returns. He has Arians’ trust.

Since Arians arrived the Cardinals have tried to find a legitimate replacement for Peterson on punt returns. Yet, as we stand here on the final day of OTAs, it looks like Peterson is headed for another season on the job. In a perfect world, the Cards would have a guy who could return kicks and punts, but rookie T.J. Logan should end up with the kick return spot and he’s never returned punts, and frankly, he probably shouldn’t start now. As excellent kick return man LaRod Stephens-Howling once emphasized, they are certainly not the same thing.

Smokey Brown is an option, although having your No. 2 receiver in harm’s way isn’t that much different than your No. 1 cornerback. J.J. Nelson has done it, but his double-whammy fumble/injury when he was doing it as a rookie in 2015 sticks in the mind. Nelson too is important to the offense and exposing his slight frame to more punishment would likely give pause.

Maybe it is as simple as getting Peterson better lanes within which to run. Maybe, as the Cardinals showed in 2015, as long as Peterson isn’t turning it over, that’s all they need in that part of the game. But getting a breakout return or 10 during the season wouldn’t be bad either.


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Cardinals celebrations? “Chandler likes to dance”

Posted by Darren Urban on May 24, 2017 – 1:54 pm

Here’s the thing about the new relaxed celebration rules in the NFL — I’m not sure exactly how much they’ll impact the Cardinals. They don’t exactly have a group of guys pining to make a scene post-play. On our latest podcast, we were talking about a power poll of Cardinals who were most likely to take advantage. I mean, it’s not going to be Larry Fitzgerald (“That’ll never happen,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Larry’s dance is dancing over to give the ball to the referee, which is what he’s supposed to do.”) We know Smokey Brown can dance, but his dance was already allowed in the rules and frankly, I don’t see him going much further than that. J.J. Nelson is pretty low key. David Johnson is definitely low key — it’s tough to embrace the nickname “Humble Rumble” and you know, not be humble.

Arians, in contrast to Marvin Lewis, is cool with the change. “I danced all the time when I scored touchdowns,” Arians said. “I didn’t get many. Danced my ass off when it happened.”

Arians, however, doesn’t figure to score at all these days. In terms of the current players? “I’m not really a dancing type of guy,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said, when asked about his potential plans. “I do love the fact the league is allowing players to show their personality, not putting us in handcuffs. I think it’s a great win for the players.”

Peterson’s first choice in the locker room “probably would’ve been Tony,” but alas, Tony Jefferson has moved to Baltimore.

“Chandler,” Peterson said. “Chandler likes to dance.”

Indeed, Chandler Jones came to my mind first. He’s further removed from the more buttoned-up culture of New England. He has the security of the long-term contract. And he definitely likes to have fun. Jones was asked about the new overtime rule but he said the celebration rule move was the “one that matters” to the defensive players.

Jones did say there wouldn’t be any choreography or dance practice. “That’s when it gets out of hand” and away from football, he said. But, he added, “I’ll have something cooking for sure.”

 


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