Short weeks are just that. Short.
“I’m going to watch Minnesota (tape) on the way home,” Carson Palmer said, after the Cardinals’ win against the Rams. “We’ve got a three-hour flight, whatever it is (technically, two hours and 48 minutes). I’ll get a good jump on them tonight, but there is no celebration. We did what we expected to do. We’ve got to move on.”
Palmer is right. The Cardinals did what they were supposed to do in St. Louis: Beat up a struggling team that, simply put, has no offense to speak of. Their building was half-empty, a crowd dulled by losing and anger toward an owner who wants to move them to Los Angeles.
On the plane ride home, the Cardinals got to watch the Panthers pull out a win in New Orleans, and their possibility of running down the NFC’s No. 1 seed continued to fade. But now the Cardinals are in control of the No. 2 seed, holding a two-game edge on the Packers/Vikings. They can put the Vikings (who were hammered at home by the Seahawks Sunday) out of their misery Thursday night.
There is a lot left here. Games against the Eagles, who won in New England, and the Packers, in a game that could still mean something for the No. 2 seed, and the Seahawks (…. the Seahawks.) But the Cards control what happens to them. That’s all you can ask.
— It would’ve been nice if David Johnson could have gained 100 yards. He came up a yard short. But he was excellent Sunday. Catching the ball, blocking – his blitz pickups, while not perfect, were solid, and that was a big concern for the rookie – and running.
— Johnson was going to come out of the game to give the other backs work right around the time he fumbled, Bruce Arians said. He wasn’t benched for the fumble. In fact, Arians brushed off the fumbles of both Johnson and Kerwynn Williams, saying it was something that will happen with young players.
— Nevertheless, you would’ve liked for Johnson to get through his first start without a fumble.
— The defense made Todd Gurley their mission. One tiny slip, but otherwise, mission accomplished. And the Cardinals have allowed the last two teams (Niners, Rams) to convert just 1-of-21 third downs. Scary good.
— The Cardinals had four drives of at least 80 yards. Carson Palmer quietly had a very good game. It may be tough to displace Cam Newton and Tom Brady in the MVP race, but Palmer deserves to be in the discussion.
— It will be under the radar, but that was a Hall of Fame-type catch by Michael Floyd to gain 30 yards to convert the first third down during the 98-yard drive. I’m not saying Floyd is a Hall of Famer, but that was a manly play. That’s why the Cardinals took him
12th 13th overall in 2012.
— That last 68-yard bomb to Smokey Brown? I’m guessing his hamstring is pretty OK (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cards keep him limited in practice, just in case.)
— Safety Rashad Johnson gets interception No. 5, leading the team, on great recognition on a deep route. Like Justin Bethel, Johnson was/is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. Bethel got paid. Johnson is hoping he will too.
— Speaking of Bethel, he held up fine starting in place of Jerraud Powers, but there were a couple of times he lost track of the ball and that’s something I’m sure he’ll be working on.
— Three days of prep (and practice will likely be very little actual full-speed practice, if any). Then the Vikings — another game with meaning. The best part of December.
Tags: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, David Johnson, John Brown, Kerwynn Williams, Michael Floyd, Rams, Rashad Johnson, Todd Gurley, Tom Brady, Vikings
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The Cardinals continue to do well in Pro Bowl voting (which you can do yourself by clicking here or going to azcardinals.com/probowl. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has dropped out of the overall top 10, but quarterback Carson Palmer remains there, seventh overall and the fifth quarterback. Fitzgerald is now fourth among wide receivers, behind Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.
The top Cardinal at a position remains free safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is still second among his position, 14,000 votes or so behind Carolina’s Kurt Coleman (the Panthers have a fanbase dedicated to the voting; they rank high at most positions.) The other Cardinals ranked in the top 10 at their respective positions:
— RB Chris Johnson is fifth.
— Mike Iupati fell to sixth among guards.
— DT Calais Campbell is fifth.
— CB Patrick Peterson is fourth.
— Rashad Johnson is sixth and Deone Bucannon is eighth among strong safeties.
— David Johnson is 10th among kick returners.
— Justin Bethel is fourth for special teamers.
Pro Bowl voting continues through Dec. 15.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Deone Bucannon, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl voting, Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu
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With the season halfway over and talk here and there about possible contract extensions, it felt like a good time to note who is scheduled to have their contract run out after the season ends. We’ve talked for a while about the secondary decisions that are coming, but in terms of players that are making an impact, it’s a lengthy list. This is only the players set to be free agents; There have been some of you wondering if, for instance, Tyrann Mathieu could get an extension. He is under contract through 2016, so I don’t expect anything soon. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.
CB Justin Bethel
LB Dwight Freeney
TE Jermaine Gresham
RB Chris Johnson
S Rashad Johnson
G Ted Larsen
LS Mike Leach
T Bobby Massie
CB Jerraud Powers
C Lyle Sendlein
T Bradley Sowell
QB Drew Stanton
LB Sean Weatherspoon
LB LaMarr Woodley
WR Jaron Brown
P Drew Butler
LB Kenny Demens
S Tony Jefferson
(Tight ends Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are all exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can be tendered and not go anywhere.)
Again, a long list. The restricted free agents, if you want to prevent them from hitting the market unfettered, can be tendered with one of three designations: A first-round tender (a one-year contract of about $3.3M), a second-round tender (about $2.3M) or the original draft spot ($1.5M). That means, if tendered, if another team signs them away, that team owes the Cardinals the tendered pick. Given that all those guys were undrafted, the Cards would get nothing for the low tender. It makes for hard decisions on a Tony Jefferson, and even to Jaron Brown.
As for the unrestricted guys …
It seems likely that the older one-year guys — Chris Johnson, Gresham, Freeney — would want to see what they might get on the open market. The secondary is the most intriguing area. It wouldn’t be a surprise that some team might want to swoop in and Greg Toler-contract a guy like Bethel, especially if they’d want him to start right away at CB. The Cardinals like Powers. They like Rashad Johnson too, but with all the safeties around, what will be the offer? What does the future hold (or rather, where is the future) for Deone Bucannon? Is he a linebacker or safety? That’ll come into play.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Chris Johnson, Darren Fells, Drew Butler, Drew Stanton, Dwight Freeney, free agency, Ifeanyi Momah, Jaron Brown, Jermaine Gresham, Jerraud Powers, Josh Mauro, Justin Bethel, Kenny Demens, LaMarr Woodley, Lyle Sendlein, Mike Leach, Rashad Johnson, Sean Weatherspoon, Ted Larsen, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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When the game was over in Detroit last Sunday, cornerback Jerraud Powers had taken part in, officially, 104 plays against the Lions. Ten on special teams, and 94 of the 95 snaps the Cardinals’ defense was on the field. He didn’t know the exact number but “I felt it. I feel it.”
“I knew we played a lot,” Powers said. “But when I saw the stat they threw 70 times, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m supposed to feel this way.’ In the secondary, we only have a limited number of guys. We’re each other’s subs, so you can’t really take us all out. It’s one of those things we just accept it. We don’t have much room to complain.”
It made this week in West Virginia even more important in prep for Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh. Seven defenders played at least 72 snaps, four played at least 92.
“Coach did a good job of taking care of us earlier this week,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “We’re going to be fine.”
If there was a tangible reason for staying out at The Greenbrier instead of flying back to Arizona, the snap-happy secondary was it. No one could’ve predicted it when the plans were made, but that’s why you do this kind of thing – to have shorter flights (a little over an hour from Detroit to West Virginia, a little over a half-hour from here to Pittsburgh) so players don’t get dehydrated and swell, which happens on flights. Their bodies have been taken care of.
It doesn’t hurt the weather has been spectacular this week too, in complete contrast to the rainy swamps the Cards had to practice in in Florida in 2013.
It was still a tough week to rally from, but the Cardinals insist they are ready for the Steelers.
“Makes you want to go upstairs and be like, ‘Y’all should pay us more if we’re all going to play this much,’ ” Powers said with a grin. “But it’s something we all accept. We know what it is.”
— Mike Vick will be playing quarterback for the Steelers Sunday. Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Cardinals will put their defensive focus on running back Le’Veon Bell – arguably the best back in the league these days. Bell’s ability to wait for the right time to hit a hole – and then shoot through it – is unparalleled.
“You have Bell, who is the most patient runner we have seen as a defense,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “He creates holes himself by how patient he is and how he jumps out and jumps back in to get guys out of their gap.”
— Larry Fitzgerald is one of the few guys who has been on all three of the Cardinals’ week-long, practice-away-from-home excursions. His power rankings: 1. Greenbrier. (now). 2. Bradenton, Fla. (2013). 3. Tyson’s Corner, Virginia (2008). Of course, Fitz noted that the Cards were 0-2 on the ends of the Virginia trip, and 1-1 on the ends of the Florida trip.
“Hopefully we can get to 2-0 on this trip,” Fitz said. “That’d be nice.”
Of course, the 2008 season ended not too bad, with a trip to the Super Bowl. Not that this will end that way, but you never know.
— Bruce Arians ended the week the way he began – downplaying his return to play the Steelers for the first time in a game that counts since he was let go by the organization. “It’s all about the players on the field,” he said Friday.
Still, he hasn’t convinced his own players he doesn’t want to, in the words of Steelers wideout Antonio Brown, “put on a show.” That’s another piece of motivation for this team this week.
— Todd Haley is the former Cardinals offensive coordinator who is now the Steelers offensive coordinator. James Harrison is the long-time Steelers linebacker who nearly became a Cardinal last August (he visited Tempe even) before declining and going back to Pittsburgh.
So, if you can handle it … there is this.
— Arians, who loves golf, spent Thursday evening talking with golfing greats Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Gary Player. All were here to talk Friday about a new golf course being built at The Greenbrier. Trevino is The Greenbrier’s club pro.
“It was on the bucket list for me to have a cocktail with Arnold Palmer,” Arians said, grinning about being able to talk about the sport with such luminaries.
Did he think about ordering an Arnold Palmer, he was asked? “Not without anything in it,” Arians said.
— The Cardinals are happy guard Mike Iupati will be healthy enough to play after his back tightened up Thursday. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin also said Iupati is getting better because he lost some weight. You figure Iupati was going to gain some because of his knee surgery and his limited work while he rehabbed. But also …
“Earlier in training camp I was harping on him,” Goodwin said. “He had Oreos hidden in his bag. We took his Oreos, whipped him into shape. Buddy (Morris, the strength coach) has done a good job with him. Lost a ton of weight.”
— Dwight Freeney will play Sunday. We’ll see what kind of impact he can make, but it was interesting to hear Arians when he was asked about Freeney and what the Cardinals got out of another veteran pass rusher, John Abraham.
“It’s very comparable,” Arians said.
If Freeney can come anywhere close to the 11½ sacks Abraham had that year – granted, Freeney already has missed five games – it’d be a big deal. If Freeney can be a five-sack man, I think it turns into a great pickup.
— Time to wrap this up from West Virginia. Almost time to fly to Pittsburgh. The Steelers await.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Dwight Freeney, Greenbrier, Jerraud Powers, Larry Fitzgerald, Le'Veon Bell, Mike Iupati, Mike Vick, Rashad Johnson, Steelers, Todd Haley
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The Cardinals’ defense got their share of turnovers Sunday — six in all — but some of those defenders got a ton of work too. Because the Cardinals were efficient in the red zone and working on short fields, and because the Lions were able to complete some passes, seven Cards played at least 72 snaps. Four played at least 92. The list:
— CB Jerraud Powers 94
— CB Patrick Peterson 94
— S Tyrann Mathieu 93
— S Rashad Johnson 92
— LB Kevin Minter 86
— S (but LB) Deone Bucannon 85
— S Tony Jefferson 72
That’s a lot. You know what else was a lot — the 70 passes the Lions attempted. Dan Orlovsky didn’t even come in until the third quarter and he threw 38 passes all by himself. For the game, the Lions totaled 70 pass attempts (and they were sacked once and Matthew Stafford scrambled once.) The 70 attempts are an NFL record for a non-overtime game. The only other time a team has tried 70 passes in a game was the Patriots in 1994 against the Vikings, and that game went into overtime.
I’d guess that secondary — and Minter — will need to rest up today.
Tags: Deone Bucannon, Jerraud Powers, Kevin Minter, Lions, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals lead the NFL in interceptions after three weeks. They have seven (Mathieu 2, Peterson, Powers, Rashad Johnson, Bethel, Jefferson). They have yet to recover a fumble. On the other side, Carson Palmer has thrown two interceptions, and the Cards have lost two fumbles. Their plus-3 in the turnover ratio is fine, but not overwhelming.
What is overwhelming is how the Cardinals have dealt with both sides of the equation.
Of the four turnovers, the Cardinals have allowed a mere six points — the two field goals at the end of the first half in Chicago, despite the Bears getting the ball in the red zone twice after a Palmer pick and a J.J. Nelson muffed punt. Yet the Cards have turned their seven takeaways into 41 points. It doesn’t hurt that three of the interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, but the Cards have scored every single time they have stolen the ball. The ultimate underscore of this three-game stretch came against the 49ers. Palmer threw an interception — a bad one — near the end of the half. Yet Tyrann Mathieu picked the ball back moments later, setting up a field goal (on what was headed to be a touchdown drive if the Cardinals hadn’t run out of time.)
It’s a ratio that isn’t going to be sustained all season (you wouldn’t think.) But it’s a crucial way to give you leads in games, and yet another thing to point at with a 3-0 record.
Tags: 49ers, Bears, Carson Palmer, J.J. Nelson, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was blunt talking about rookie running back David Johnson.
“He could be special,” Goodwin said. “Very special.”
That’s an easy conclusion to reach after three touchdowns on just nine NFL touches, including a 55-yard touchdown reception and a 108-yard kickoff return. One thing coaches and teammates love about him isn’t his talent – although, yes, they love his talent – but his ability to be humble. Of course, he does have to absorb some grief.
“I don’t believe no one in this locker room is really reading their press clippings,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Well, maybe David. David is probably reading his.” Mathieu chuckled. “I’d be reading them too.”
Johnson chuckled himself when he heard Mathieu’s comments. “It was a little harder this week,” Johnson said, “but the coaches made sure I stayed grounded, and the players around me reminded me it’s a long season.”
It is going to be a long season. That’s why almost everyone around the Cardinals followed Bruce Arians’ lead this week in brushing off the 2-0 start. Playing the 49ers Sunday is both a step up in opponent and a foray into the NFC West, and the Cards understand both cannot be underestimated.
— No word on the offensive line as of yet. The fact Mike Iupati still has not been able to practice fully any one day has to raise a red flag, but we’ll see if he’s able to go against his former team Sunday. As for right tackle, Arians said Bobby Massie is better at pass protection and Earl Watford is better in run blocking. He’s also noted Watford has given up too many quarterback hits. The Cards like to the throw the ball. We’ll see if that impacts the decision.
— The 49ers are a grind-it-out team. That makes sense because a) they have a talented running back in Carlos Hyde and b) quarterback Colin Kaepernick, while he has made strides as a passer, still isn’t someone you’ll lean on the majority of the time.
Then there is Kaepernick’s ability to run himself, which will force the Cardinals to be on top of things while he scrambles around back there.
“From an awareness standpoint, I think our guys have to know that any down, any distance, he could tuck the ball and run with it,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.
— Goodwin, talking about the Bears game Thursday: “Last week there were a lot of things I didn’t agree with in terms of hitting the quarterback, a couple of shots he took. (Carson Palmer) is going to get hit. We just have to minimize it.”
Friday, Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee was fined $17,363 for his low hit on Palmer on the flea-flicker touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. McPhee was flagged for a personal foul on the play.
Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson was also fined $17,363 for his hit to the helmet of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Johnson did not draw a flag on the play.
— Don’t forget Adrian Wilson will be inducted into the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game. What was behind Wilson growing into one of the best players in franchise history? Take a look back at my “Making of A-Dub” piece from 2010.
— Bettcher said the defensive line has a “great rotation” right now, and that includes some snaps for Calais Campbell at nose tackle. In reality, the Cards don’t really use a true nose tackle – Xavier Williams has been inactive, and starter Rodney Gunter (whom Bettcher said is doing well) is more like a Campbell. Again, the Cards were going for versatile on the line this season.
— Campbell makes it on Sports Science.
— Will Larry Fitzgerald go off again this week? Who knows? Arians is always coming up with different things. Even Fitz knows things can change.
“Coach Arians is like a mad scientist,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s always finding ways to get guys involved, to create mismatches for his playmakers.”
— Anquan Boldin gets another chance at his former team. He’s said in the past playing the Cardinals is just another game, but frankly, I don’t believe him. Q is too intense along those lines to have it be otherwise.
“He’s a physical receiver,” Mathieu said. “He’s 100 percent for 4 quarters. I’ll be matched up with him so I have to bring my big boy pads.”
Tags: 49ers, Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, Bobby Massie, Calais Campbell, Carlos Hyde, Carson Palmer, Coline Kaepernick, David Johnson, Harold Goodwin, Jay Cutler, Pernell McPhee, Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Rashad Johnson had already pulled off his jersey and shoulder pads as he made his way off the field Sunday, the Cardinals’ 31-19 win official. The shirt he wore under his jersey for the game, now drenched in sweat? None other than one that proclaimed “9 More” – or the saying the veteran safety uttered back in 2013, after the last time the Cardinals played the Saints and Johnson lost a fingertip.
He was back with the team a couple days later, telling everyone he was fine because he still had nine more fingers.
It was kind of cool that Johnson got the Cardinals’ lone interception Sunday – he nearly had a second later on. He wasn’t going to get his finger back, but he was able to extract a small revenge.
The offense got gutsy with their playcalls and ended up putting 31 points on the board, but the new James Bettcher defense did a lot of the same things the old Todd Bowles defense did, including stiffening in the red zone to force field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense must be better – as acknowledged by many, way too many yards surrendered on short passes-and-long-runs by running backs – but it was a good enough start.
— The right knee injury to Andre Ellington was scary-looking. But as we got into the postgame, both Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer sounded optimistic that the injury – Arians said the belief is that Elllington hurt his PCL – wouldn’t sideline Ellington permanently.
— That said, we see where the running back depth makes so much sense. Ellington goes down, and you turn to a veteran who still has a little juice left in Chris Johnson. Then you let speed merchant David Johnson loose on the pass – I was down on the sideline when the rookie blew past everyone, and I have to say I didn’t expect that kind of speed – and you figure the Cards can weather an Ellington absence.
— Bruce Arians said he was “anxious” to make the play call that ended in Johnson’s 55-yard touchdown. Which is odd because few do such a thing. ESPN’s Mike Sando tweeted this great stat: From 2010 through last season, NFL teams ran 94.8 percent of the time on second down in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter when leading by six or fewer points.
— Then again, Arians does not lay up. He goes for the pin.
— There were many upset at the sequence at the end of the first half that ended with two incomplete bombs and a Palmer scramble as time ran out, costing the Cards a field-goal try. But remember, that’s the mentality that led to the Johnson touchdown. No risk it, no biscuit. That’s B.A.
— The offensive line did solid. There were hiccups. There always are. But there were not a lot of them and for the most part, there is little to complain about. Earl Watford hung in there at right tackle against the very talented Cameron Jordan. Jonathan Cooper had a rough start but rallied. Most importantly, Carson Palmer was not sacked.
— Backup center/guard A.Q. Shipley played fullback and was lead blocker on Ellington’s touchdown run. Fantastic, and good use of the 46-man active roster on game day.
— Tyrann Mathieu kept promising his savage season and he was all over the field Sunday. He had a team-high eight tackles and three passes deflected while the Cardinals went heavy with their four safety-packages.
— I thought Patrick Peterson played well. Yes, he got beat once by Brandin Cooks for a 30-yard gain. But mostly, Cooks – the Saints’ best offensive weapon – was a non-factor. And mostly, Cooks was covered by Peterson.
— It’s hard to find a better story or more likeable guy (and the Cardinals’ locker room is filled with likeable guys) than tight end Darren Fells. To see him break out is cool, and reinforces what Arians has been saying about his development. There are times when Arians moves into hyperbole with his players, but Fells is proving his coach right on target.
— Michael Floyd played, and had an 18-yard catch early. Arians said he wasn’t on a “pitch count” to hold down his plays, but Floyd certainly didn’t play as much as he normally would.
Road game in Chicago next weekend. One down, at least 15 to go.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson, Darren Fells, Earl Watford, James Bettcher, Jonathan Cooper, Michael Floyd, offensive line, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Saints, Tyrann Mathieu
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Sean Weatherspoon’s extended absence has been, in Bruce Arians’ words, “discouraging.” Certainly Weatherspoon’s spot in this defense feels like a question mark (although if he gets back on the field in the next week, I’m not sure we’ll even think about it anymore.) With Weatherspoon still out, not much has been figured out in terms of the inside linebacker position.
Or maybe it has.
Look, there has never been any doubt of the depth the Cardinals have at safety, or the fact both Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher have said multiple times they will put the best 11 on the field. Or the fact Arians earlier in camp called safety Deone Bucannon the lone “inside linebacker” he can see on the field all three downs (with Weatherspoon on the shelf, of course.)
Bucannon would like to play safety. But he is smart enough — and team-oriented enough — that he’ll play wherever. He reiterated that again Monday. As long as Rashad Johnson (who, it can be noted is in the last year of his contract) and Tony Jefferson and Tyrann Mathieu are around, and as long as Bucannon probably is better suited in the box rather than running around to cover a lot of guys, linebacker is his spot. To be out there a lot could be a concern given his weight (he is listed at 211) but I know there are many out there who suggested Bucannon may be better suited at linebacker.
Things change from year to year. If Johnson isn’t here in 2016, if the Cards get Weatherspoon to click and stay beyond this season, if an athletic inside linebacker is drafted, maybe this all changes. But even if Weatherspoon gets back to where the Cardinals want him to be, I’m guessing Bucannon will be next to him, in front of the secondary, much of the time.
Tags: Deone Bucannon, Rashad Johnson, Sean Weatherspoon, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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The end of the offseason comes with it lots of speculation and analysis. That’s par for the NFL course these days, when even the parts that don’t mean a ton get parsed and dissected. The on-field work of OTAs and minicamp is the ultimate in that regard. Once, when the CBA was different and the league was different, minicamp was about pads and training camp got a brief yet important head start (ask Ron Wolfley.) Now minicamp, other than extra time on the field, is no different from OTAs in terms of (non-)contact and what it means. Shorts are shorts, and football isn’t played in shorts.
So when I get to this point in the offseason, when I put out my best guess at the starting 11 for the Cardinals when the regular season opens Sept. 13 before I take some vacation, it comes with the caveat: So much is still to be learned in training camp. At this point last year, Jonathan Cooper was a virtual lock to start at left guard, for instance. We know how that turned out.
That said, here are my thoughts on the defense. Offense will be posted tomorrow. Something to chew on while the temperature sizzles outside and the players get down time until the very-late July report day. One point to note — the Cardinals do open against the Saints, so the actual starting lineup may actually be the nickel sub-package or something like that. For this exercise, we’re going base defense:
(UPDATE: Here is the offense.)
DE — Frostee Rucker. The Cardinals are going to rotate their defensive linemen a lot (except for maybe Calais Campbell) but the veteran Rucker should be in the game to start. He was dropped into that role in training camp last year after Darnell Dockett got hurt and had a solid season.
NT — Corey Peters. Peters isn’t built the same as departed nose tackle Dan Williams, but the Cardinals are counting on him to have a similar impact. One of the reasons Williams was allowed to leave was because he wasn’t going to play the amount of snaps needed to give him the money he could make on the open market. Peters is a little more versatile. It’ll be interesting to see where someone like undrafted rookie Xavier Williams could eventually fit into this equation.
DE — Calais Campbell. He’s the Pro Bowler of the front seven and the guy who Bruce Arians wants to lead this defense. Interesting that a couple pof times Arians has talked about Campbell finding more consistency in his high play. If Campbell gets there, the Cards’ defense will be in good shape.
OLB — LaMarr Woodley. This is a big wild card going into training camp. Lorenzo Alexander has been with the first unit alongside Alex Okafor, but I think Woodley — or someone — finds a way to supplant Alexander by the time training camp ends. Maybe it would be rookie Markus Golden who pairs with Okafor. Maybe, since it’s the Saints in the first game, DE-turned-OLB Kareem Martin gets a shot. But right now, I’ll guess Woodley.
ILB — Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon has to stay healthy, but if he is, he joins Campbell and Patrick Peterson as the three absolute locks to start.
ILB — Kevin Minter. He won’t play if the Saints run three and four receivers out there constantly, but Minter will be that run stopper inside in a season that really becomes ultra-important. He sat as a rookie because of Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby. His play last season was undercut by a training camp pectoral injury he played through. He’s healthy now, and needs to show why he was a second-round pick.
OLB — Alex Okafor. Okafor has gotten plenty of praise from Arians, who thinks Okafor would have gotten double-digit sacks (he had eight) had he just been healthy for all 16 games. Okafor probably isn’t the long-term dynamic pass rusher the Cards still need, but he has shown he can pressure the quarterback, and that makes him very valuable.
CB — Patrick Peterson. For whatever the reasons might have been, Peterson did not play as well in 2014 as the Cardinals needed or how anyone expected. Time to right that wrong. Peterson looked fit and active in the offseason work, which was a good sign.
CB — Jerraud Powers. There is still a chance Justin Bethel has a great camp and passes up Powers for a starting job, but in the end I expect Powers to be the guy. Arians has said good things about him constantly, and the Cards like his smarts on the field.
SS — Deone Bucannon. For a good chunk of offseason work, it was Bucannon and Rashad Johnson on the field with the first team base defense, with Tyrann Mathieu coming off the bench. But I think Mathieu will be a guy the Cards want to have on the field at all times, and right now, I think they’d like to find a way for Bucannon to have a role at safety. Now, the Cards will want to use Johnson — the on-field coach of the secondary, if not the defense — but I think it’ll be more like the role Johnson had in 2013 once Mathieu took his starting spot.
FS — Tyrann Mathieu. Again, the Cards have depth at safety. There will be times when Bucannon plays some linebacker in sub-packages and the Cards use Mathieu, Johnson and Tony Jefferson on the field at the same time. Arians has stressed the Cards want the best 11 on the field for each particular play. But a healthy, playmaking Mathieu is going to get a lot of snaps.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Calais Campbell, Corey Peters, Deone Bucannon, Frostee Rucker, Jerraud Powers, Kevin Minter, LaMarr Woodley, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Sean Weatherspoon, training camp, Tyrann Mathieu
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