The Cardinals, not surprisingly, should keep “potentially” five of six wide receivers on the 53-man roster, GM Steve Keim said Monday during his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7. That math isn’t hard to follow. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn and rookie John Brown are the top four and the locks. Barring something changing, it seems hard to believe Jaron Brown — given his special teams ability — won’t be the fifth. Beyond that, it looks like it could come down to rookie Walt Powell and Brittan Golden — or, possibly, no one. Powell is practice-squad eligible, although you’d have to get him through waivers.
“That’s the kind of problem you want to have as a General Manager,” Keim said.
Some other Keim thoughts after the first preseason game:
— He was generally pleased with the work of the offensive linemen. Jonathan Cooper “rebounded nicely” after giving up the early sack to J.J. Watt. Keim thought Cooper looked athletic in space a couple of times, which is why the Cardinals liked Cooper so much in the first place. More importantly, Keim liked how Cooper got back in the fray after having his leg (the same one that had been broken) rolled up on early. The O-line “certainly looks like an area we have upgraded.”
— Keim liked the ability to create mismatches in the passing game. That was obvious a few times, especially with tight ends getting wide open on delayed routes. John Carlson caught a touchdown (called back), Rob Housler had a 38-yard catch-and-run, and Darren Fells dropped what should have been a TD catch or near-TD catch.
— Keim liked how second-year inside linebacker Kenny Demens — another guy who looks like a lock to make the 53-man roster at this point — played, especially on special teams. The GM noted guys like Demens, Jaron Brown, running back Robert Hughes, cornerback Justin Bethel and guard Paul Fanaika and how their games have changed. “It gives me great faith in our coaching staff,” Keim said. “(Those are) guys that not only have improved but improved considerably.”
— It all comes with a caveat that it is only a preseason game and the first one at that. Staying injury-free and fixing what Keim saw as multiple mental errors are still topping the to-do list.
Tags: Darren Fells, Jaron Brown, John Brown, John Carlson, Jonathan Cooper, Kenny Demens, Logan Thomas, Rob Housler, Steve Keim, training camp
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The Cardinals’ logjam at tight end was lessened Wednesday when veteran Jake Ballard — who had already missed a couple of days of practice with a sore knee — decided to retire with his ongoing knee issues. Ballard’s career was derailed when he blew out his knee in the Giants’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots after the 2011 season. In a statement released through profootballtalk.com, Ballard said that knee injury was too much to overcome.
“I love this game and have put my heart and soul into it for as long as I can remember,” Ballard’s statement read in part. “After sustaining a serious knee injury while playing for the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, my body never felt the same. Having a quality of life after football is very important to me and I have witnessed it taken away from others. I will miss the game tremendously, but I am ready for this next chapter in my life.”
It’s too bad. Ballard is a good guy who came up with a couple of big plays for the Cardinals after signing last season, including a crucial catch in the game-winning drive in Seattle (seen below). Just a few months ago, he was saying that he already felt better on the field than he did last season. “I feel like I am almost back to my old self. And that’s a relief.” Apparently, that good feeling didn’t last.
“It was an honor and a privilege to play for the NY Giants, New England Patriots, and most recently the Arizona Cardinals,” Ballard’s statement continued. “I met amazing people from all of my teammates, to opponents, to trainers, to coaches, to owners, and everyone in between. I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your fraternity and I wish you all nothing but success.”
Big picture, it’s hard to know if there is any cause-and-effect whether Ballard’s decision — or the troubles it was giving him in camp — had anything to do with how Darren Fells has been playing or the prism within which coach Bruce Arians has seen Fells as he praised him publicly the last few days. Knowing the Cardinals will have four tight ends on the roster, it seems like a quartet of John Carlson, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas and Fells makes some sense.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Darren Fells, Jake Ballard, John Carlson, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas
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Offensively, the Cardinals need to take a step forward this year. They need to so they don’t pressure the defense as much as last year (especially after some unknowns with defensive changes) and they need to so they can keep up in the NFC West arms race. Good news – there is a confidence there it will happen. Who are the guys who will be at the forefront of that plan? Here’s my guess, at least for the regular-season opener. (If you want to see the defensive picks, click here.)
QB – Carson Palmer. Biggest question around Palmer at this point? What happens in 2015, considering Palmer is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. But he is the guy the Cards will ride or die with this season.
RB – Andre Ellington. No-brainer. He’s earned the right, and we’ll see about the touches per game, which I will guess will be 20 to 22 a game.
WR – Larry Fitzgerald. Big year for Fitz, who scored last year like he once did but is still searching for his first 1,000-yard season since 2011 and who is coming to a crossroads – along with the franchise – with his contract in 2015.
WR – Michael Floyd. He’s a star on the rise. He played well last year, and he should be better this season. The third wide receiver should be Ted Ginn, but I fully expect John Brown to at least have a chance to play a role in the offense.
TE – John Carlson. This is assuming he stays healthy, but Carlson has looked good in the offseason and could prove to be a very nice bargain.
TE – Jake Ballard. At some point – maybe not until 2015 – this will be Troy Niklas’ spot. The rookie is far behind right now. Rob Housler still has a chance to work his way into the lineup. But right now, Ballard is feeling good with his knee and he is closer to the blocker that Arians likes.
LT – Jared Veldheer. The left tackle they have always wanted.
LG – Jonathan Cooper. He’s going to be back to health. Time for the 2013 first round pick to get his time on the field and show why the brass so believes in him.
C – Lyle Sendlein. Old reliable is what they want in the middle.
RG – Earl Watford. Paul Fanaika has been running first unit and there is also veteran Ted Larsen lurking as a possibility. But the Cardinals are hoping Watford comes around and takes control of a job he was drafted to have.
RT – Bobby Massie. Another wide open spot. There’s always a possibility of a late-summer free agent signing. Bradley Sowell isn’t go to go away. But Massie has looked better in the offseason work and in a lot of ways, this is probably his last chance to take ahold of the place he held as a rookie.
So that’s that. There will be a lot of time and practices between now and the opener. Injuries happen. Battles will be won or lost. We will see how this guesstimate (educated as it might be) holds up.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Carson Palmer, Earl Watford, Jake Ballard, Jared Veldheer, John Brown, John Carlson, Jonathan Cooper, Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein, Michael Floyd, Paul Fanaika, Rob Housler, Ted Ginn, Troy Niklas
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Robby, Bruce Arians said, has had a “fantastic” offseason so far. And that’s at least a start.
Where Rob Housler goes from there, we’ll see. It seems that Housler’s “make-or-break” year, or “year to make a leap” has been every year except his first. The Cardinals are still waiting, and now the reality of the NFL means time grows short. Housler is in the last year of his rookie contract. The Cardinals signed John Carlson (who has looked very good so far), brought Jake Ballard back to health and drafted Troy Niklas. Even, at least in the heat of OTAs, Darren Fells has looked the part. Arians has called his tight ends group “an NFL room right now” and they all certainly look the part. Making this team — and getting playing time — won’t be simple.
Housler, to start, needs to stay on the field. He knows that. He’s battled that since he got into the league, and his ankle injury that derailed him in training camp and then into the regular season last year did not help. Just as things picked up midway through the season he dealt with a missed game with a bad groin. He still had 39 catches and a career-high 454 yards. He still looks like that tight end who could be such a major mismatch/threat down the middle. No, he’s not the blocker that perhaps Arians wants at the position, but he still can bring much to an offense.
With his contract coming up, the motivation will never be greater. Given how the offense runs, Housler’s never going to be a 70-catch guy. Not here. But he can be more than he has been. Arians feels confident with the guys he has at the position now, and seeing how Housler fits into the puzzle — and how that impacts him beyond 2014 — is one of the more intriguing parts of this season.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Darren Fells, Jake Ballard, John Carlson, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas
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There are, in the end, few starting spots that will truly be up for grabs as the Cardinals move toward the regular season. That’s reality. But as the Cards begin organized team activities today, there are some things to watch for. Through the Phase 2 work, there have been certain people running with the first unit. For instance, on the offensive line, Bradley Sowell is the first-team right tackle and Paul Fanaika remains the starting right guard. Bobby Massie and Earl Watford are with the second team. I don’t know if that is going to change before we get to training camp — I’d be a little surprised if it did — and camp will be when Massie and Watford will have to make their push.
At tight end, there’s been a lot of work for John Carlson and Jake Ballard and I think Rob Housler is going to have to work hard to stay up on the depth chart, although with his skill set and Bruce Arians’ love for multiple tight ends there will be plenty of work to go around. On defense, Kevin Minter and Daryl Washington are your inside linebackers, although Larry Foote is there to step in if Washington can’t be there. On the outside, Matt Shaughnessy and Sam Acho are getting reps although I’d expect John Abraham to be the starter when he’s around (remember, all this work is voluntary right now).
The rookies, meanwhile, will be worked in slowly. It was interesting to see first-round pick Deone Bucannon basically shadow Tony Jefferson at strong safety during the Phase 2 run-throughs of defensive plays. That’s one way to learn on the job. I anticipate a two-field system like last summer for the young players, although we’ll see if Arians sticks with that. I’ll have more after today’s workout.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Deone Bucannon, Earl Watford, Jake Ballard, John Abraham, John Carlson, Kevin Minter, Larry Foote, Matt Shaughnessy, OTAs, Rob Housler, Sam Acho, Tony Jefferson
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Bruce Arians said at the Scouting combine he wants his tight ends to block first, catch second. And it the second round of the draft, the Cardinals took a tight end who is big enough to fulfill that role. Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas, at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, had 32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns this season, but that probably won’t be his priority in Arizona.
“He should become the best blocking tight end in football, if he decides he wants to,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.
The Cardinals now have newcomer John Carlson, Jake Ballard and Rob Housler as the top tight ends. There is no question Niklas will get his time in the two-tight end sets the Cards use. He’s got room for growth. He was recruited to Notre Dame as a defensive end and moved to linebacker before getting chance at tight end. He played both offensive line and defensive line in high school. He was used almost exclusively as a blocker in 2012, so his receiving skills should only improve.
His nickname is Hercules, so he’s got that going for him.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Jake Ballard, John Carlson, Mike Mayock, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas
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The best tight end in the NFL? Bruce Arians doesn’t name Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski. He picks Heath Miller. “Not because he catches 90 passes,” the Cardinals’ coach said at the Scouting combine Friday. “But because he blocks big defensive ends.”
Herein lies the Arians philosophy on tight ends, and why those guys piling up catch totals in spread college offenses might not be the guy the Cardinals will want going forward: “Tight ends for me block first, catch second,” Arians said.
Those guys are pretty rare these days. Rob Housler was a catch-first guy when he was drafted, and while he isn’t great blocker, Arians said he has leaned to block “adequately.” The Cardinals need tight ends, depending on the free agents they might bring back. Arians does believe a pass-catcher can be taught to block, but they have to have the right body type and they have to be willing to do it. “A lot of guys are not willing to stick their face in the fan,” Arians said with a chuckle.
Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is considered a catch-first tight end and probable high draft pick who flourished in Kliff Kingsbury’s up-tempo offense. But Amaro said when Tommy Tuberville was coaching Tech, Amaro had to block first.
“I think it’s just a want-to thing,” Amaro said. “I’ve always had the technique; I’ve always had the drive. When I’m asked to block, I know I can block. I feel like it’s something that’s very overlooked of what I can do and then it’s something I’m going to have to show at the next level. But I know I’m willing to.”
It’s something that’s going to come up with any of the highly rated college tight ends. And it’s something Arians and the Cardinals are going to have to believe before they draft one, especially with a high pick.
“It’s such a unique position,” Arians said. “The best tight ends never go to the Pro Bowl because the best tight ends don’t catch 80 passes or 90 passes. Those are wide receivers.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Heath Miller, Rob Housler, 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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Every time General Manager Steve Keim talks about his roster, he talks about looking to improve everywhere. That’s always the default. While the Cardinals probably need, say, offensive linemen or tight ends more than, running backs, you don’t turn down chances to upgrade your team at any position. (As for the latest talk-radio conversation about quarterback, I feel confident that a) Carson Palmer is going to be the starter in 2014 and b) if Keim has a QB sitting on the board in the draft that he really, really likes — whenever that is — the Cardinals will likely take him.)
All that said, there are spots that need addressing just for the sheer numbers. I’ve already posted this once, but below is a link to a roster breakdown done right after the season. It has changed a bit — punter Dave Zastudil has re-signed by now — but the rest of the contract situations remain the same. Keim has a little more than six weeks before contracts officially expire. In terms of strictly numbers, here are how impending free agency impacts the positions (not including all the futures deals/low-end free agents that have signed):
— QB: Cards are fine with all three guys under contract. You’d expect a fourth camp arm to sign if one isn’t drafted.
— RB: Rashard Mendenhall is unrestricted and plays a big role, although if the Cards rode Andre Ellington/Stepfan Taylor in 2014, no one would be surprised.
— WR: Assuming the Cards can get comfortable (if they aren’t already) with Fitz’s contract, the position is probably OK. They need to add someone if Andre Roberts leaves as a free agent, but they can ride with Floyd/Fitz as a top two.
— TE: A major question. Only Rob Housler is under contract for next season. This has got to be a spot where the Cards draft, right?
— OL: Upgrades are necessary and will happen, but as of now, only Eric Winston is a free agent of guys who played at all.
— DL: Need depth here. Do you bring Frostee Rucker back? And that rehab needed for Alameda Ta’amu’s ACL tear hurts the team as much as Ta’amu.
— LB: It’s hard not to notice two starters in Karlos Dansby and Matt Shaughnessy who could potentially walk away.
— DB: The Cards could probably use another young safety, although they may be in good shape if Tony Jefferson can step forward. But what about cornerback, with Tyrann Mathieu coming back from injury and Javier Arenas/Antoine Cason/Bryan McCann scheduled to be free agents. Depth is needed there. It’ll be interesting to see if Justin Bethel ends up playing a bigger defensive role.
— Specialists: Zastudil is back. We’ll see what the Cardinals do at kicker and impending FA Jay Feely.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Andre Ellington, Andre Roberts, Antoine Cason, Bryan McCann, Carson Palmer, Dave Zastudil, Eric Winston, Frostee Rucker, Javier Arenas, Jay Feely, Karlos Dansby, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Shaughnessy, Rashard Mendenhall, Rob Housler, Roster, Stepfan Taylor, Steve Keim, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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We here at azcardinals.com are grinding away to post some day-after-season content, but here are some quick notes on a relatively news-less day-after following locker room availability and Bruce Arians’ final presser — news-less for sure compared to this time last season:
— Carson Palmer is still in the middle of his career, but his jersey from Sunday — still grass-stained and now autographed as seen below — is headed to Canton, Ohio and the Hall of Fame after Palmer surpassed 4,000 yards this season during the game Sunday. Palmer became the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 4,000 yards with three different teams. He did it previously with the Bengals and Raiders.
— Arians, who is usually good for one great quote almost every press conference, got off another doozy Monday. When he was told players see him as a father figure, Arians didn’t miss a beat. “I don’t like that,” Arians said. “I’m the cool uncle you like to have a drink with.”
— Arians said he wants his entire staff back. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is expected to draw interest for head coach openings.
— Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu indeed tore his ACL, so he has a long road back after surgery.
— Arians was not surprisingly vague on specific free-agents-to-be. He’d love to have LB Karlos Dansby back. In regard to K Jay Feely, “I love Jay to death” but as a free agent, “it will be all business from here on out.”
— The free agents themselves, those who talked, said the same thing almost every free agent for every team does. I’d love to be back. It’ll depend on what they want to do upstairs.
— TE Rob Housler made good progress, Arians said, but he has to learn to block better and stay healthy. One thing is in Housler’s control. I’m not sure the other one is.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Hall of Fame, Jay Feely, Karlos Dansby, Rob Housler, Todd Bowles
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