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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As expected, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is active today for the Cardinals after suffering a concussion last week in Tennessee. That’s important, as is tight end Rob Housler (groin) as the Cards need all their weapons. Another interesting twist on today’s inactive list: Quarterback Ryan Lindley is active, meaning all three QBs are up. That is a nod to the gimpy left ankle of Carson Palmer, not that he won’t or can’t play, but more that if he is hit the wrong way and sent out, the Cards would want to make sure they still have two healthy quarterbacks once Drew Stanton was put in the game.
Safety Rashad Johnson (ankle) is indeed inactive, meaning rookie Tony Jefferson is starting. With Lindley up, the “new” inactive is offensive lineman Nate Potter.
The full inactive list is:
– S Rashad Johnson (ankle)
– RB Ryan Williams
– G Earl Watford
– DE Ronald Talley
– LB Dontay Moch
– T Nate Potter
– TE Kory Sperry
Tags: Carson Palmer, inactives, Larry Fitzgerald, Rob Housler, Ryan Lindley, Seahawks
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Not surprises with the Cardinals’ inactives list today in Tennessee. Tight end Rob Housler, who didn’t practice all week with a groin injury, is not dressing. Quarterback Carson Palmer (right elbow) is playing, as is wide receiver Michael Floyd (ankle). Tight end Kory Sperry is playing in Housler’s place. Wide receiver Brittan Golden is also active this week while reserve safety Curtis Taylor is inactive.
The other five inactives:
– QB Ryan Lindley
– RB Ryan Williams
– LB Dontay Moch
– G Earl Watford
– DE Ronald Talley
In a big development, the Titans made wide receiver Justin Hunter inactive because he violated team rules. He’s been a good weapon for Tennessee of late and that can only benefit the Cardinals.
Tags: inactives, Rob Housler, Titans
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Some newsy quick hitters after Bruce Arians addressed the media today, the day after Daryl Washington’s return-to-action party:
– Arians sees Andre Ellington’s role at 30 to 35 plays a game. But that might top it out. Arians said he doesn’t see Ellington’s body type to hold up with a much heavier workload, and he emphasized Ellington will continue to get work as both running back and receiver.
– Stepfan Taylor is doing a “great job” on special teams. Ryan Williams, as we have said ourselves many times, doesn’t play special teams, Arians said. So Williams isn’t going to be active. I think that changes if there is an injury, but in the meantime, Williams will stay inactive, it looks like.
– The only injury from Sunday was a hamstring problem for linebacker Kenny Demens, which will likely sideline him this week, Arians said. Linebacker Jasper Brinkley (groin) and safety Rashad Johnson (finger) should return this week, the coach added. Arians said he didn’t want Johnson playing with a big “mitt” of a cast, but Johnson should be down to a small splint this week.
– He said Andre Roberts was playing inside early in the season when he was effective, and when tight end Rob Housler came back, Roberts went outside and became less effective. It’s something the coaches will look at.
– As far as Housler, he’s a “work in progress” Arians said. “He’s not on the same page as Carson (Palmer),” Arians added.
– Arians said there would be no change in the schedule to prepare for next week’s short week, which features a trip to San Francisco for Sunday and then a home game against Seattle a week from Thursday. The Cards won’t worry about Seattle until after San Francisco, Arians said.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Andre Roberts, Daryl Washington, Jasper Brinkley, Kenny Demens, Rashad Johnson, Rob Housler, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor
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Both wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (toe) were upgraded to limited practice today and will officially be listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in New Orleans. Questionable is a 50-50 designation, but if I had to guess, I’d guess both will be active for the Saints. Both looked OK during the open portion of practice (which isn’t necessarily full speed and isn’t in pads, so take it for what it is worth.) Also, both fall into that category of Bruce Arians from earlier in the week, when he said he’d let a player with a good résumé play even with no practice. Obviously both practiced and in both cases, both have proven themselves to Arians enough that I’d think he’d trust their judgment when it comes to this.
Mendenhall’s injury isn’t a turf toe, Arians said (Mendenhall suffered it during the game and played with it, Arians said). Arians said he didn’t remember the name of what exactly Mendenhall had, and even though it isn’t turf toe, “it’s damn close,” Arians said with a chuckle.
Of course, being active and playing doesn’t mean playing the whole game. We saw that with Fitzgerald last week. How much of an impact either can make is TBD. And this week, since the Cardinals have to get on a plane, we also don’t know if the flight could somehow aggravate either injury, which makes “questionable” a lot of sense.
Linebacker Kevin Minter (hamstring) is out for the game. The Cardinals did have tight end Rob Housler (ankle) practice fully for the first time Friday, so he is ready to play. He will be a welcome addition to the offense.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Kevin Minter, Larry Fitzgerald, Rashard Mendenhall, Rob Housler, Saints
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Larry Fitzgerald did not practice today. “I wanted him resting today,” coach Bruce Arians said. “I didn’t want him aggravating that (hamstring) again.”
“He wants to practice,” Arians added. “I’m not letting him.”
Fitz is going to be day-to-day, Arians said, but there sure seemed to be the underlying feeling Fitzgerald will end up playing Sunday. That’s the vibe Arians gave off, and every time Carson Palmer was talking in general about playing without Fitz — like in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Lions — he made it sound that Fitz will be there. Palmer said if he knew a guy was going to miss a game he’d prefer to work with the backup, for chemistry and timing reasons. But, he added, “that’s not the case with Larry,” Palmer said.
During the open portion of practice, Fitz still donned his helmet and went out and stood five yards away from a JUGS machine and was making catches — one-handed. Amazing how he was doing it, easily snaring the ball (with either hand) with it being shot out of that thing. Even injured Fitzgerald leaves an impression.
Here’s something else to remember with Fitzgerald. Arians was asked what his philosophy was in terms of playing players Sunday who didn’t practice during the week. “That totally depends on the player,” Arians said. “You better have a résumé. We fortunately have one that has a pretty good résumé.”
– Rookie linebacker Kevin Minter wasn’t practicing either, and Arians said his hamstring problem was worse than originally expected. Minter is “probably doubtful” to play in New Orleans, Arians said. Running back Rashard Mendenhall also wasn’t practicing during the part of practice open to the media. Not sure if that’s his knee or a hamstring or what, but Arians did not bring it up in his pre-practice press conference. The injury report will be out later today.
– The good news? Tight end Rob Housler was back and practicing full for his first workout of the regular season. Housler should give Arians more flexibility with his offense.
Tags: Kevin Minter, Larry Fitzgerald, Rashard Mendenhall, Rob Housler
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The Cardinals have changed up availability times for Mondays, so the players aren’t talking until later on, but a few notes from lunch with Bruce Arians:
– Rookie running back Andre Ellington continues to impress and it’s not like Arians only sees him has a third-down, change-of-pace guy. “This kid can carry the load,” Arians said. (And to clarify: “Can” carry it doesn’t mean he will. Rashard Mendenhall is the starter.)
– Of the seven game balls awarded for the Lions game, three went to special teamers: kicker Jay Feely, punter Dave Zastudil and Justin Bethel, who blocked a field goal and who has to be in the discussion as best gunner in the NFL. The others went to DE Calais Campbell, CB Patrick Peterson, WR Kerry Taylor and QB Carson Palmer.
– Palmer did have the pick-six interception, but Arians praised his leadership, especially late in the game with no Larry Fitzgerald and the offense struggling on third downs. “He sent the best signals (that) ‘We’re fine,’ ” Arians said.
– Arians was happy with the play of Taylor but he did not commit to keeping Taylor on the roster once Fitz returns to full strength. That, he said, will depend on injuries. The bottom five roster spots are always churning.
– The hope is tight end Rob Housler (ankle) will play this week. But it’s still we’ll-see mode, as it will be with the rest of the injuries. Arians said he wants to see where the Cards are Wednesday before talking about anyone else.
– Safety Yeremiah Bell actually was playing some linebacker Sunday (I can’t wait to hear from everyone who always wanted Adrian Wilson to do the same). It was part of the package to handle the Lions’ offense. “He played great,” Arians said. “We asked him to learn linebacker in two different fronts. I can’t say enough about the guy. He’s the ultimate pro.”
– Arians said the decision to stay back East after the Saints game came with the knowledge the team has back-to-back 10 a.m. Arizona time kickoffs. This will hopefully alleviate some of the issues with the early kickoff in Tampa.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Dave Zastudil, Jay Feely, Justin Bethel, Kerry Taylor, Patrick Peterson, Rob Housler, Yeremiah Bell
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