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Fitzgerald, Mathieu, Peterson to sit out Texans

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2016 – 12:57 pm

Earlier this week, Tyrann Mathieu talked about being “mindful” of his health, weighing it against whether playing in the preseason was important enough to trump where he was in his rehab. The reality is, for many starters, playing in the preseason simply doesn’t overrule health (right, Tony Romo?)

There is no official “not-expected-to-play” list but three key Cardinals — Mathieu, CB Patrick Peterson and WR Larry Fitzgerald — all are in street clothes and not in uniform and they won’t be playing today. Mathieu, of course, is coming back from his ACL tear. Fitzgerald has been dealing with a minor MCL sprain and said this week he just wants to be ready for Sept. 11 against the Patriots. Fitzgerald was out in early warmups — helmet on, which is rare for any player at that time of the pregame — catching passes, and was moving around fine. This feels precautionary.

Not sure what Peterson’s issue is, if any. He did have his foot/ankle taped during Friday’s final practice so perhaps that is a factor, although he looked OK. In any case, it opens the door for the three cornerbacks battling for the other starting job — Brandon Williams, Mike Jenkins and Justin Bethel — to get important work. It’s unknown how much Bethel will play coming off PUP. Jenkins has yet to play in a preseason game himself because of his broken hand.

WR John “Smokey” Brown, coming back slowly from his concussion, also isn’t dressed, as is RB Kerwynn Williams. Not sure of his injury, although he was watched carefully by RB coach Stump Mitchell and trainers Tom Reed and Chad Cook early before the game.


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Ellington takes his shot at punt returns

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2016 – 10:13 am

Andre Ellington is now listed as the top kickoff and punt returner on the depth chart. The kickoff part isn’t that surprising. The punt return part is, since a) Ellington has never really done it and b) it wasn’t really a consideration when camp started. But Ellington, who finally got a chance to return one in a game in San Diego, is going to have the opportunity.

We’ll see how comfortable Ellington can get back there. This possibility has been building since the day Chris Johnson re-signed. When the three top running backs were healthy last season, David Johnson was returning kickoffs and there was a reason to have all three active on game days. Now that David Johnson is going to be the main back, he won’t be returning kickoffs — so to have all three active, someone has to play special teams. That’s not Chris Johnson. So you try and see what Ellington can do as the dual return man. (You don’t really want Patrick Peterson returning punts anymore either.)

Watching him in practice, Ellington looks very much like a work in progress. But Bruce Arians is right — if Ellington does get his hands on a punt, he’s the kind of player that fits such a return perfectly, getting the ball in space on what essentially is an extended stretch running play, in which Ellington can use his burst to blow up the field.

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Williams’ crash course continues in San Diego

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2016 – 10:47 am

The No. 2 cornerback for the Cardinals remains a work in progress.

Justin Bethel came off the PUP list this week but still isn’t ready to practice. Mike Jenkins finally returned to practice this week, although the surgery for a broken bone in his hand means he has to wear a cast. Meanwhile, rookie Brandon Williams remains the starter and still figures to be the best bet to be starting Sept. 11 even with his growing pains.

That’s why Williams should’ve benefited big from a couple of practices against the Chargers, to work against different receivers than just the Cardinals and to see different looks. Williams got a healthy dose of Amari Cooper last week and now Keenan Allen — who has been a tough cover in practice — was this week.

“(Brandon) is a guy who were are going to lean on in the season so we want to see how he was living, how he was going to respond when the ball is coming his way,” all-pro cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Not to toot my own horn, but after the year I had last year, if there is a rookie defensive back, nine times out of 10 they’re going to pick on the young pup. So (cornerbacks) coach (Kevin) Ross wanted to throw him into the fire and to see how he would respond.”

Peterson is right, of course. Whomever is playing across from Peterson will be targeted often. Look at what happened to Bethel late last season. That’s not going to change in 2016, whether it is Williams or Bethel or someone else.

“I can only imagine how tough it is getting 13, 14 targets a game,” Peterson said. “That’s tough for anyone. biggest thing is keeping the confidence up and relying on the technique. You are prepared for the moment, it’s just about taking what you learned on the practice field to the game. That’s the biggest thing for young cornerbacks.”

BrandonWilliamsBlogUSE


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Peterson gets to #CardsCamp via helicopter

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2016 – 11:59 am

The Cardinals will have their annual conditioning test this afternoon and the veterans have arrived at University of Phoenix Stadium to take physicals and move into the hotel next door. Most drove over, but all-pro cornerback Patrick Peterson came over a little differently — via helicopter. A helicopter complete with “Rise Up” emblazoned on its body.

And to think, last year, it was just about the DBs getting around the hotel on hoverboards.


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Jenkins is Keim’s CB camp signing

Posted by Darren Urban on July 19, 2016 – 9:16 am

So, with training camp starting in a little more than a week, the Cardinals have signed a veteran cornerback. (With Steve Keim, did you expect anything else?) Mike Jenkins, with whom the Cardinals flirted before as a free agent back in 2014, is the one now in the defensive back mix.

You knew they would get a vet. Early in offseason there were talks with Bengals vet Leon Hall (who is still unsigned) and Jerraud Powers (who eventually signed with Baltimore). Jenkins has spent the last two years in Tampa, where he signed after nothing materialized with the Cards two years ago. At the time, the Cardinals instead signed Antonio Cromartie (who made the Pro Bowl.)

Jenkins joins a crowded secondary. There is no set starter across from Patrick Peterson. Justin Bethel has a slight edge, and Jenkins — who has started just five games the past two years in his 15 appearances — has a chance to get in the lineup. But he isn’t a lock to win a spot necessarily, either. Third-round pick Brandon Williams will join Peterson and Bethel on the roster. Draft pick Harlan Miller has a chance. Former undrafted corner Cariel Brooks has a chance. There are also a couple of guys who have been around — Asa Jackson and Shaun Prater — who have had an offseason to show themselves.

(Adam Schefter is reporting the Cardinals are scheduled to bring in vet CB Chris Culliver for a visit too. Keim confirmed the visit.)

However it plays out, Keim has made sure there is that veteran security blanket heading into camp. Maybe the Cardinals already in place will show it was unnecessary. But usually, that vet who signs now not only ends up necessary but an integral part of the upcoming season.

Corey Brown, Mike Jenkins


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Peterson and, yes, Palmer make NFLN 100

Posted by Darren Urban on June 29, 2016 – 5:56 pm

So, in the end, Carson Palmer made it.

On the NFL Network’s annual top 100 list, the quarterback’s huge 2015 season earned him No. 12 on the rankings, joining teammate Patrick Peterson (at No. 18) in the top 20 as what I would expect to be the final two Cardinals in the countdown. The top 10 players are announced next week.

Barring a top 10 surprise, the Cardinals ended up with six players on the list: Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Tyrann Mathieu, Larry Fitzgerald and then, of course, Palmer and Peterson.

While this list isn’t the end-all-be-all, it shows the respect the players on the Cardinals’ roster have across the league. You can argue about where the players were ranked, of course. I can’t say I’ve paid close attention to where the non-Cardinals are, although at first glance I don’t know if there are 17 players worthy of being ahead of Peterson after the season he had in 2015, but again, that’s what June and July are for — debate in the dead of the offseason. (It’s fair to wonder if Peterson was ranked too high last year.)

But it was good to see Palmer on the list. It’s his first appearance since the list came out and since he was discussed as an MVP candidate, it was kind of a no-brainer. When your quarterback is considered among the top 12 players in the league, your team is probably in pretty good shape.


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2016 – 1:35 pm

The players have been gone for a couple of weeks. The coaches are on vacation. Now is the time for them to not think about football, since football will dominate lives when the end of July arrives.

In the meantime, it is the perfect time to speculate and predict.

As I have done for a number of years, here are my picks, in late June, of who will be the starters for the Cardinals when they begin the regular season Sept. 11 against the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.” They are the best guesses for a team that has yet to take part in training camp, yet to absorb any of the inevitable camp injuries, yet to sign anyone late as a Steve Keim blue light special.

While the Cardinals often are in some sort of sub-package, for this post we are going with the base defense. I’ll post my thoughts on the offense tomorrow (and here they are):

DT – Calais Campbell. Going into the last year of his contract, Campbell’s future with the Cardinals is fuzzy. But the Pro Bowler has played well, and the addition of Chandler Jones figures to make him better, and in a year where the Cards are going to push for a Super Bowl, he’ll be a key piece.

NT – Corey Peters. The Cards like Rodney Gunter, who was solid as a rookie. But Peters was impressing coaches before his Achilles injury last season, and I expect him to make a similar push to get back into the starting lineup by the time the season starts. Other than Campbell, the defensive line starter positions are a) up for grabs and b) part of a rotation, anyway. One caveat: This is assuming Peters is indeed all the way healthy, but coach Bruce Arians said Peters would be ready to go come camp.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Rucker missed offseason work with a foot injury, and he may not be ready right when camp opens. But assuming he doesn’t miss too much time, he figures to find his way into the lineup again. He’s been solid the last couple of seasons, and while there is youth available (Gunter, Nkemdiche, Stinson) Rucker still leads the way.

OLB – Chandler Jones. He was penciled into the lineup the day he arrived in a trade. He’ll be a three-down player.

ILB – Deone Bucannon. Last year at this time I picked Bucannon to be the starting strong safety. It was, after all, where he spent the entire 2015 offseason working. Then, when camp began, Buc was back at dollar linebacker. The Cards don’t even pretend he is anything but anymore.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He got his chance to show he could be a starter last year, and he made it work. He’ll be back in place again as he goes into the last year of his contract.

OLB – Markus Golden. When it comes to outside linebackers, Jones is the star, Alex Okafor is the former starter on the comeback trail after his dicey exit to 2015, and Dwight Freeney is the still-available free agent. Meanwhile, Golden, who was solid as a rookie, will slide into the starting spot opposite Jones. He’ll have the chance to be a nice bookend.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Yes, 2014 was mostly forgettable. Peterson couldn’t have made 2015 more memorable. That was the stud cornerback he could be, and the one the Cards are counting on going forward.

CB – Justin Bethel. There is competition, not from someone unsigned, but from the rookies. If Bethel is going to grab this job, he has to hold off raw rookie Brandon Williams. He should be able to do that.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, I think Mathieu finds a way to be ready by “Sunday Night Football” to open the season. If not, Tyvon Branch – who will get a lot of playing time anyway – is around. The Cards need a healthy and productive Mathieu.

SS – Tony Jefferson. Branch will be in the mix too, and D.J. Swearinger will make a push, but in the end I think Jefferson finds his way on to the field first, as the Cards once again mix-and-match often their secondary. (Would I be surprised if Branch starts? Not at all.)

DefenseWorth


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Peterson talks “All or Nothing” and respect

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2016 – 3:42 pm

Patrick Peterson was in Los Angeles Tuesday, making the round for a couple of reasons — doing the Colin Cowherd show on FS1 and an interview with Adam Schein of Sirius XM NFL radio and NFL.com to promote the upcoming “All or Nothing” series, which will be released July 1, and also to shoot the intro video for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” (Tyrann Mathieu was also in L.A. to take part in the video, as was Carrie Underwood, of course.)

During his interview with Schein, Peterson talked about “All or Nothing” (“It will definitely shine a different light on athletes”) and the infamous quarterback bucket toss (“It’s not all about winning, it’s all about not coming in last place.”)

Then, Schein asked Peterson if he thought the Cardinals got enough respect nationally.

“We have built into that reputation,” Peterson said. “We still have a couple of years to go of some consistency, of being in the playoffs year in and year out, getting those double (digit)-win seasons. I think we can definitely get there. But the pedigree is growing into that for sure.”

PPandCarrieUSE


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Five Cardinals make PFF’s top 101

Posted by Darren Urban on June 16, 2016 – 10:03 am

While the NFL Network top 100 list continues to be counted down, profootballfocus.com has their own list of the top 101 players in the league. The site usually has a top 101 list after the season based on the season just completed. But now, they have a top 101 list of players right now based on overall body of work and with all positions being equal — meaning a good quarterback could still be behind a lineman if the lineman is exceptional.

Five Cardinals made the list: DB Tyrann Mathieu at No. 18 (PFF is one of the strongest outlets in referring to Mathieu more as a cornerback instead of a safety, since he plays so many snaps there), CB Patrick Peterson at No. 32, QB Carson Palmer at No. 40, DT Calais Campbell at No. 89 and G Evan Mathis at No. 98. Here’s a sampling of what PFF said on each:

Mathieu: “Whether you want to call him a safety or a cornerback, Tyrann Mathieu is one of the league’s best defensive backs. He is a true playmaker on defense and has the ability to move around and cause matchup problems for offenses, putting them on the back foot for once in a league that usually forces defenses to react, not the other way around.”

Peterson: “At his best, Patrick Peterson is one of the league’s top shutdown corners, or as close as anybody can get to that term in today’s NFL of pass-happy rules.”

Palmer: “Palmer had the league’s highest average depth of target, and his expected inaccuracy rate given the passes he was attempting should have been the highest in the league. As it turned out, he was the best on intermediate and deep throws, and if I knew I was getting that guy in 2016, he would by vying for a place inside the top-five on this list.”

Campbell: “While his ceiling may be some way short of J.J. Watt or Aaron Donald, he is still a major impact player on defense and capable of screwing up an offense’s plans almost single-handedly.”

Mathis: “PFF’s affinity for Evan Mathis has been no secret over the years. He is a player that has consistently graded well when he has been on the field, and even this past season when carrying injuries and splitting time in Denver, he was one of the best-graded guards in the league, and the highest-graded run blocker.”

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The second field and DBs work

Posted by Darren Urban on May 18, 2016 – 2:35 pm

Ever since Bruce Arians arrived in Arizona, he has made use of the second field during OTAs and minicamp. The concept is simple. With 90 players on the roster, and the veterans needing their time to learn, the third- and fourth-string players and others needing work head over to run the same script that the first two units run on the main field.

After the opening OTA, Arians said that meant 42 reps for each field, and significant work for the inexperienced.

“Most teams’ rookies got five or six reps if they were lucky,” Arians said. “Ours got 42. That’s one of the ways we try to bring young players along.”

Nowhere are those reps more important than at defensive back, with Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Bethel all sidelined with injuries. The Cards are short enough that draft picks Brandon Williams and Harlan Miller, both cornerbacks, are getting their work on the main field thus far. Williams, not surprisingly, has a way to go given his inexperience at the position — Peterson has been working with him closely in practice. But reps against receivers like Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd or Smokey Brown and even guys like J.J. Nelson will quickly show what needs to be learned.

There has been much speculation about whether the Cardinals will sign another cornerback. With the versatility on hand (safeties like Tyvon Branch and Marqui Christian will likely get some work there in practice) and the second field, the Cardinals will get a good sense of just what they have at cornerback on the roster — and whether they need to find someone else later.

millerdbblog


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