It was a new perspective for me Saturday night, with my new preseason duties as sideline radio reporter putting me down on the field the whole game. The focus goes up when there isn’t Twitter to watch and interact with, that’s for sure. The Cardinals had most things go exactly how they’d like them to have gone. The injuries were limited and minor, and the first-team offense was solid.
But the fact Drew Stanton played so well (11-of-15 passing) was helpful. One, it helps define what the rest of the preseason is about, and in the case of the quarterbacks, that’s whether Blaine Gabbert is someone to keep as a third quarterback rather than supplanting Stanton as No. 2 (not that it was ever that close to being a battle anyway.) The Cardinals took a flier on Gabbert to see if he might have some future value. The plan was always for Stanton to remain No. 2. Stanton’s poise in the pocket impressed Saturday. He also praised strength coach Buddy Morris and that crew for preparing his body so well, noting it’s made a difference. Whatever the reason Stanton got off to such a good start — he had as many completions against the Raiders as he did all of the 2016 preseason — the Cardinals will take it.
— Same with Carson Palmer, who looked sharp. There were a couple of near misses. The Cards will lament greatly if Palmer slightly overthrows a wide-open Jaron Brown for what should’ve been a 46-yard touchdown if it had been the regular season. But the bullet to Brittan Golden for a touchdown was nice, and Palmer maneuvered the pocket well.
— David Johnson, 3 carries for 16 yards. I’m not sure I’d need to see him at all the rest of the preseason. He looked fine.
— Golden is one of those guys who just makes it so hard to cut. Three catches for 44 yards and a score, and he’s good on special teams.
— The punters weren’t busy, but they clearly got the message from coach Bruce Arians. Each only punted once. Matt Wile crushed a 65-yarder (net of 56), Richie Leone launched a 61-yarder (net of 45). Wile’s kickoffs were impressive all night too. In fact, special teams did pretty well. Josh Mauro had a blocked field goal and Kerwynn Williams had a 35-yard kickoff return and a 13-yard punt return. Phil Dawson nailed both field goal tries and two extra points with ease (Wile missed a 46-yard field goal, but again, he won’t be trying field goals when it counts.)
— Linebacker Josh Bynes had a team-best six tackles, a half-sack, a tackle-for-loss, a big forced fumble and a pass breakup. He’s a vet, last of the Lions, signed because of injuries — and you have to wonder if he could make a push for a roster spot. he and Scooby Wright could be fighting for a possible place.
— Gabbert had a tougher time in Game 2, but part of that was the blocking, which didn’t hold up all that well. Gabbert took four sacks. That can’t happen, either with him or with the line.
— Did we mention that DT Robert Nkemdiche is playing well? He did again Saturday — he blew up a third-and-1 play for the Raiders, and was in the middle of stuffing the Raiders on the very next fourth down try — and you can see the confidence is feeding into his upswing. If he plays well, the line will be fine, even post-Calais.
OK, it’s midnight. Cards are off Sunday and back to training camp practice Monday.
Tags: Blaine Gabbert, Brittan Golden, Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Drew Stanton, Josh Bynes, Josh Mauro, Kerwynn Williams, Matt Wile, Raiders, Richie Leone, Robert Nkemdiche, Scooby Wright
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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!)
Tags: Blaine Gabbert, Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Evan Boehm, Haason Reddick, Jared Veldheer, Jaron Brown, Justin Bethel, Kerwynn Williams, Matt Wile, Olsen Pierre, Patrick Peterson, Raiders, Richie Leone, Robert Nkemdiche, Tyrann Mathieu
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We’re a long, long way from “failure-in-progress.”
Bruce Arians was asked about Justin Bethel — who has looked pretty good in practice — and the coach was blunt in his assessment. This time, it was in a good way. “If he plays at the level he’s playing at right now, he’s going to have a great year,” Arians said. Bethel’s confidence has returned after his broken-foot-related struggles of a year ago, Arians added. Throw in some praise for Brandon Williams’ game against the Cowboys along with practices — Arians said as a press corner, Williams is going to get beat every so often, like he did on the long pass in the Hall of Fame game — and the coach sounds a lot more confident about his No. 2 CB role.
(Of course, after the signing of veteran Tramon Williams, this is what the Cards have to work with. Aeneas Williams isn’t walking through that door. But I do agree that Bethel has looked solid.)
“At the end of the day, I want to be the starter, but all three of us are going out there and work as hard as we can and we all want to see us all get better,” Bethel said on the “Red Sea Report” Tuesday.
— WR John Brown (quad) is back at practice today on a limited basis. T D.J. Humphries (hamstring) will miss another day.
— Arians said he wants to see more consistency from punters Matt Wile and Richie Leone. There is time to improve, Arians said. But over the next couple weeks, if he doesn’t see improvement, Arians said the Cards won’t be adverse to making a move there.
Tags: Brandon Williams, John Brown, Justin Bethel, Matt Wile, Richie Leone, Tramon Williams
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It’s late here in Canton — past 2 a.m. — so this is going to be an efficient post, in part because it’s the first of five preseason games and yeah, the preseason. That doesn’t mean things of importance can’t happen. You wish the head coach wasn’t saying “fingers crossed” about an injury to the rookie who was already showing he could be that dynamic return man you had been seeking.
But it was hard not to notice quarterback Blaine Gabbert as the top story of the evening. With all the caveats of preseason/the Cowboys only using three defensive starters, Gabbert looked very good in completing 11-of-14 passes for 185 yards. What does this mean? It means that Gabbert succeeded when, frankly, he should have. Beyond that, we’ll still see.
The last time a new Cardinals QB played so well in the preseason opener? (It just happened to be the last time a Cardinal was going into the Hall of Fame, Aeneas Williams.) Logan Thomas completed 11-of-12 passes against the Texans, for 113 yards and a TD. We all know how that turned out. Now, Gabbert is not Thomas. As much as Gabbert has struggled, his NFL career was still light years better. But it’s a reminder to hold off on grand pronouncements.
— Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Kurt Warner had his party Thursday night, and both Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Wilson made it over there to celebrate post-game.
— Logan really looked good as a return man. For a guy who hadn’t returned punts in college, he impressed.
— Tight ends Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah also made some plays. Momah in the passing game, grabbing three receptions. If he is able to play special teams like he did last year before getting hurt, Momah has a place on this roster.
— Andre Ellington scored on a three-yard run that showed some grit, fighting his way between the tackles. If you recall, Bruce Arians said Ellington had to run tougher. The TD run was a good sign.
— Rookie safety Budda Baker made some plays. Arians praised Haason Reddick too.
— Robert Nkemdiche took a step forward again, playing much of the time in the first half. He busted up a couple of plays. He says being healthy, he feels more like himself. Again, he’s going in the right direction.
— The backups who played the offensive line for Gabbert mostly held up (from left tackle, Wetzel, Kaleb Johnson, Toner, Bergstrom, John.) The second-unit pass rushers who started didn’t generate enough pressure.
— The Cardinals return to practice Saturday (it’s closed to the public). Meanwhile, I’ll be here in Canton, covering Warner’s induction. Look for my big Warner-years-in-Arizona story tomorrow (today, here in the Eastern time zone).
— UPDATE: Some are wondering why I didn’t bring up the missed field goals, and it’s simple. Phil Dawson didn’t kick. The punters, Richie Leone and Matt Wile, kicked, each missed a field goal, but the punter will only be kicking when it counts if Dawson goes down in a game. That’s unlikely to happen.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Andre Ellington, Blaine Gabbert, Cole Toner, Cowboys, Ifeanyi Momah, John Wetzel, Kaleb Johnson, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Logan Thomas, Matt Wile, Phil Dawson, Richie Leone, Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Bergstrom, Troy Niklas, Ulrick John
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When the Cardinals signed veteran kicker Phil Dawson, one of the questions that came up immediately was whether he would kick off. Dawson split time with the 49ers last year with punter Bradley Pinion on the duty, and ended up with only four touchbacks. But Dawson emphasized that his low touchback count was by design and not because of an inability to kick it deep. While both the Cardinals’ current punting options — Matt Wile and Richie Leone — can and have kicked off in the past, coach Bruce Arians has said Dawson can do the job. It’s a wait-and-see situation, but Dawson wants to kick off.
Dawson said the biggest reason his touchback count was so low last year was that the coaches wanted him to pooch kickoffs. Pro Football Focus pointed out that Dawson had the greatest percentage of kickoffs between the goalline and the 5-yard line last season, at 41.5 percent. With touchbacks now coming out to the 25-yard line, a pooch-and-cover strategy makes a lot of sense. The Patriots, to name one team, did it well last year. The Cardinals went with the touchback most of the time with Chandler Catanzaro, but given special teams issues and the need to cover, that probably was a good idea. If the Cards can gather a coverage unit that can get there, Dawson could trap return men near the goal again. Yes, his touchback ratio would be lower, but if the Cards can lock down the return man inside the 25, no one will care.
No one was more effective with the pooch kickoff last year than Phil Dawson pic.twitter.com/JiImOPxZNu
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 10, 2017
Tags: Matt Wile, Phil Dawson, Richie Leone
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