So now Chris Johnson joins the Cardinals and the team did not get rid of a running back as he walked in the door. It’s a crowded backfield. For the record, the Cards now have Andre Ellington, two Johnsons — David and Chris — Kerwynn Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Marion Grice, Robert Hughes and Paul Lasike.
Johnson — the new one — only signed a one-year contract. He becomes the latest in a line of vets who were wooed by GM Steve Keim for the chance at getting a shot on a good team to revive their contract worth. Frostee Rucker. Matt Shaughnessy. Karlos Dansby. Eric Winston. Antonio Cromartie. LaMarr Woodley. Jermaine Gresham. Even Lyle Sendlein. Johnson reportedly will only make the minimum salary too, unless he rushes for at least 1,300 yards (which a back has never reached since the team moved to Arizona.)
What does all that mean? Well, for starters, if Johnson doesn’t work out the way the Cardinals want through the rest of the preseason, he can be released without much impact on the salary cap ($400,000 is guaranteed.) More likely he’ll simply be part of the rotation. If I had to guess right now, the Cardinals will keep five running backs. Ellington will be the starter. The two Johnsons will be there. After that? I’d think there would be one between Hughes and Lasike as the “big” back — Hughes has the inside track there — and one among Taylor, Williams and Grice. Taylor is good on special teams, and Williams’ game is similar to Ellington’s and Chris Johnson’s (plus, he could go on the practice squad if necessary.)
As for the desire to pick up a veteran and supplanting a recent draft pick, this too is something Keim has already done. The Cardinals drafted inside linebacker Kevin Minter in 2013 in the second round and turned around and signed Dansby just couple weeks later, and Dansby’s play left Minter on the bench all season. Now, David Johnson may have the same thing with Chris Johnson. For Keim, it’s about what the Cardinals can do this year.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Karlos Dansby, Kerwynn Williams, Kevin Minter, Marion Grice, Paul Lasike, Robert Hughes, Stepfan Taylor, Steve Keim, training camp
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One of the things Bruce Arians said last season — more and more as the year went along — was that while he still believed in the philosophy of the offense that allowed Andre Ellington to be the linchpin both running and receiving, it became a big problem when Ellington was dinged up and then sidelined with injuries. It was especially true in the passing game, where Ellington excels when he is on the field.
As the offseason goes on and people keep wondering what will be the role of rookie third-round running back David Johnson might be, it’s telling that Arians mentioned first the other day praise for Johnson as a receiver. The thought was that the Cards would take a big running back to pair with Ellington, but instead, it points more toward the ability for the Cardinals’ offensive gameplan to absorb an Ellington injury if necessary.
Arians said as much right after the draft, saying with Johnson “you don’t have to change if there was an injury,” but that message is easy to forget over the weeks. Arians has said Johnson needs to put on pads before anything can be determined of him as a runner. How this running rotation plays out will be interesting — Arians has talked a lot about Robert Hughes about needing more work, although Hughes never quite was able to fill that void left when Jonathan Dwyer was let go last season. Maybe the offensive line upgrade will make a difference all the way around. But even though Johnson physically has size on Ellington, they’ll likely do a lot of the same things on the field.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, David Johnson, Robert Hughes
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Andre Ellington has been the Cardinals’ running back workhorse, with increasing carries the past couple of games. This team was always in a position where they needed Ellington to stay healthy and perform, given his skill set. That just becomes more important now, as Stepfan Taylor — Ellington’s backup — is expected to miss “significant time,” according to coach Bruce Arians, because of a calf injury.
(Feels like the Ellington-Taylor story might have been a jinx. … OK, not really.)
Taylor didn’t have a carry against the Eagles before going out with the injury in the second half. But it now means that the top two backs that were supposed to support Ellington — Jonathan Dwyer and Taylor — are not around. And this is all while Ellington is playing through a bum foot. The Cardinals have explored adding a running back through trade but nothing has been that close to happening and now, Marion Grice — a rookie sixth-round pick of San Diego who was cut and on a practice squad before the Cards signed him — is the Ellington backup. You’d think at some point, the Cards will have to add a back to the 53-man roster. Kerwynn Williams is an option from their own practice squad. Robert Hughes simply has a different role.
Of course, if Ellington can stay on the field, maybe it doesn’t matter as much. Ellington took every one of the Cardinals’ 23 rushing attempts against Philly. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin has said a couple of times he thinks Grice can play the same kind of role Ellington does. The Cardinals may have to find out, at least on a limited basis.
UPDATE: The Cardinals made a practice squad move to give them running back options, bringing local guy Zach Bauman back to the practice squad and releasing cornerback Anthony Gaitor.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Harold Goodwin, Marion Grice, Robert Hughes, Stepfan Taylor
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Officially, 10 Cardinals had at least one rushing attempt against the Vikings Saturday, including two for no yards for Zach Bauman (because no, the crazy backward pass TD was ruled a fumble return on the official scoresheet.) On 34 attempts by those 10 players, the Cardinals amassed only 96 yards. Take out an eight-yard scramble by quarterback Carson Palmer and a 20-yard reverse by wide receiver Brittan Golden, and the numbers looked not so good.
But Bruce Arians has always looked at his running game a little different than his passing game. B.A. seems to go with a “I know it’s working when I see it” rather than leaning on statistics. For instance, the Golden run was a reverse that stuck in his head clearly, even after Golden gained his 20 yards. “The reverse that should have been a touchdown,” Arians said. “Our young tackle just stood there and didn’t block that last guy.” Indeed, Golden looks like he would have gone a lot further had tackle Kelvin Palmer decided to stay in front and get into safety Jamarca Sanford (who eventually got Golden out of bounds) instead of waiting to block defensive end Corey Wootton — who wasn’t going to catch Golden anyway.
Regardless, Arians noticed the negative runs. But he also noticed the 19-play TD drive to start the second half that featured 14 runs. “We challenged our offensive line to get physical, we’re going to run the football with Ryan (Lindley) in there and we did a really nice job,” Arians said. There were no finesse runs in the bunch. Every one stayed in the box or at least near the tackle. The gains weren’t great but the Cardinals imposed their will, which is obvious with any drive that takes more than 10 minutes. The Cardinals got a rushing touchdown on that drive and had one to open the game too.
“We ran the ball efficient,” said running back Jonathan Dwyer, who scored the first touchdown. “We read our keys well.”
“I thought there was some really quality pound-them runs,” Arians said.
The x-factor in the Cardinals’ running game will be Andre Ellington. He is hardly getting any work right now and he is without question the team’s best back. While I expect Stepfan Taylor and Robert Hughes to also have roles, Dwyer was the guy working after Ellington Saturday and he is the guy that, to me, has emerged as the top non-Ellington option. I also expect Dwyer to be the Cardinals’ goal-line back. The way the Cardinals built, and with an Arians offense, this team is going to be pass-first. That seems clear. Arians has shown very little concern about the running game at this point. I don’t see that changing.
“We know when we are running well,” Dwyer said. “We know when we are making positive yardage, the numbers will take care of itself.”
Tags: Andre Ellington, Brittan Golden, Bruce Arians, Jonathan Dwyer, Robert Hughes, Stepfan Taylor, Zach Bauman
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When the pads go on and the tackling starts, players can make an impact. Two young guys who did that during the Fan Fest work were tight end Darren Fells and undrafted rookie defensive tackle Bruce Gaston. Arians mentioned both by name Monday as having caught his eye Saturday, and there is nothing better than having your coach call you out in a good way during a press conference. That’s twice for Fells in a week, too. And as you know, three times is the charm.
(Actually, it will be really interesting to see what happens with Fells and the other tight ends. The Cardinals aren’t keeping five. Fells could go back to practice squad, but would he clear waivers? Would the Cardinals look at a trade? A lot of camp to go so maybe Fells’ star fades, but it’s an intriguing situation.”
Arians also mentioned Robert Hughes and Jonathan Dwyer, and again, those two look like the natural backs to join Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor on the 53 in early September.
Gaston also creates a dilemma if he indeed stays in contention for the roster. “He was blowing up some blockers and made a name for himself in that scrimmage.” Figure the Cardinals will keep six defensive linemen. Dockett, Campbell, Dan Williams and the two rookies Martin and Stinson seem like locks. Alameda Ta’amu might be on PUP, but what about Frostee Rucker, who also seems like a lock? Would the Cardinals keep seven defensive linemen?
— One of the reasons left guard Jonathan Cooper has struggled is going against defensive end Calais Campbell, who has played at a Pro Bowl level the last couple of years.
“Coop is getting there. He’s still a rookie,” Campbell said. “I don’t feel bad beating him. I mean I kind of do a little bit but I know I have to go hard against him so he can be football-ready because the first game he’ll have to step up and play big for us.
“Me and Coop are great friends. You don’t want to make him look bad in theory. But it is best for the team for me to go strong, and get him game-ready. We’ve had some good battles.”
Arians said Cooper responded well Saturday to his “disappointed” comments.
— WR John Brown (hamstring) will miss practice again today.
— Arians said he expects everyone to play Saturday against Houston, barring injury. He does hope Brown is back and playing. Starters will go about 15 plays.
— Arians update on the return of absent linebacker John Abraham. “I would hope next week,” he said. Added that with Abraham’s experience, missing a couple weeks of camp was not a big deal.
— Logan Thomas will be the third QB against Houston and play most of the fourth quarter. Ryan Lindley will get that chance the following game in Minnesota.
— Reminder that today’s practice is closed to the public. That gives Arians a chance to see how his team responds. There were an announced 23,000 at the Fan Fest scrimmage Saturday, which provided energy as a backdrop to what Arians called the best practice of camp. “It should be with 20-some thousand people,” Arians said. “It should get the juice flowing. Look forward to what it will be with nobody in there. It’s got to be the same kind.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Bruce Gaston, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, Darren Fells, John Abraham, John Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Jonathan Dwyer, Robert Hughes, training camp
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The Cardinals are off today. They will practice Monday, but that practice will not be open to the public. The open workouts resume Tuesday. As always, the entire camp schedule can be seen right here.
Finally, a game week has arrived. The Cardinals open the preseason Saturday night at home against the Texans. Bruce Arians said there will be no game planning, no watching of any Houston video (not that it would matter, since the Texans have changed coaches since last year.) This is where the NFL season really becomes the NFL season, with the ebb and flow of a few days of practice before a game every weekend.
— Yes, it caused a stir when Bruce Arians said Jonathan Cooper has to play better. Like most coaches, Arians has a purpose to what he says. Sometimes he’s trying to show confidence in his guys. And sometimes, he’s trying to light a fire under them. Cooper is going to get his chances though. He’s the seventh overall pick. The leash is naturally longer. That said, you know Arians won’t hesitate to make a change. That is a threat that can be understood.
— The only downside of being embedded with Aeneas Williams over the weekend was missing Fan Fest and the goalline drill. One thing that has struck me watching those highlights and practice over the first week — I will be surprised if running back (fullback?) Robert Hughes doesn’t make this roster.
— If you missed the story of Williams’ induction night in Canton, check it out here.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Fan Fest, Jonathan Cooper, Robert Hughes, training camp
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Bruce Arians met with the media after the morning walkthrough with the first practice of camp — remember, no pads until Monday — coming this afternoon. It’s that schedule that leaves the old school Arians shaking his head a bit. “It’s really hard to call this ‘camp’ anymore,” Arians said. “There’s no physical grind to this stuff like their used to be. It’s all mental.”
With that, Arians said he expects his team to be on the top of its game mentally. There were too many penalties in the spring, he said, and when it comes to pre-snap penalties, that’s a very bad thing . (Hopefully, B.A. doesn’t decide to do what the Jets have done, which means any practice offside forces everyone — media relations people, other team staff included — to do pushups.)
“(Mental mistakes) have to decrease and it really should now that we’ve been in this a year,” Arians said.
On to the other notable things from the media session:
— QB Carson Palmer, evaluating the roster: “This is by far the most talented team I’ve been on.”
— Palmer and Arians have discussed using the no-huddle more this season. The Cardinals didn’t use it much at all last year. Palmer ran it successfully many years in Cincinnati and now that the Cards understand the offense better, it may be a better fit.
— When Arians talks about RB Robert Hughes, fourth on the depth chart behind Ellington, Taylor and Dwyer, you get the sense he likes him a lot. He thinks he’s an excellent blocker, which is a big deal to Arians. It’ll be a surprise if Hughes doesn’t make the roster as a fourth back, especially because Hughes can play special teams.
— LB John Abraham has not yet returned from his personal business and will miss practice Saturday.
— How much the Cardinals use Patrick Peterson in the return game “remains to be seen,” Arians said.
— Arians isn’t a fan of the officials being able to call penalties for things said on the field, just because it’s a heat of the moment situation.
— Arians said he’s looking forward to the kicking competition, especially since preseason extra points will be moved back and will be more like field goal tries. Rookie Chandler Catanzaro is intriguing, Arians said. Asked if he would worry about having a rookie kicker, Arians didn’t flinch. “I don’t give a (expletive), whatever position it is,” Arians said. “If they can play, they can play. Everybody has got to be a rookie sometime.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro, John Abraham, Patrick Peterson, Robert Hughes, training camp
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This isn’t necessarily about starters, since I have already addressed that directly. But the battles of training camp aren’t always about who plays first or the most. Sometimes it’s about roster battles and depth and who plays more than who. Some competition will come seemingly from nowhere — going into camp last season, no one would have guess Paul Fanaika would have gotten into the mix, but the Daryn Colledge injury helped that come into focus — so there will be other players to watch.
But for now, here is some of the competition I will be watching:
Guards Earl Watford, Paul Fanaika, Ted Larsen and Anthony Steen. Larsen has been backing up Lyle Sendlein at center while Steen, who can also back up both spots, didn’t do anything in the offseason recovering from injuries. Someone will be the starting right guard. The Cardinals would like for Watford to step up. It very well could be Fanaika for a second straight season. Watford should be on the roster regardless, so if he’s not starting, that will be a spot that must be won. The Cards likely will only dress seven on game days, making those swing interior guys valuable.
Tackles Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell. OK, everyone knows this one. It doesn’t make it any less intriguing. Like Watford, Massie is the guy the Cardinals would like to win the job. But he’s got to win it. Sowell isn’t going away without a fight. Sowell, however, can be a valuable game-day backup since he played left tackle all last season and can play the right. That’s a one-for-two guy on your bench.
Cornerbacks Justin Bethel and Jerraud Powers. With Tyrann Mathieu still hurt, Powers is an important piece in nickle coverage to start the season. But when Mathieu gets back, can Bethel — who got so much love for his potential this offseason — find a way past Powers on the depth chart? Bethel still has much to prove. Powers has his limitations, but his smarts make him a favorite of Todd Bowles and Bruce Arians.
Inside linebackers Ernie Sims and Kenny Demens. Sims has the experience, but he also has the reputation of struggling the past couple of seasons, which is why he finds himself bouncing around the league. The Cardinals have been intrigued with Demens since his (undrafted) rookie year last year, when he spent most of his time on the practice squad. Sims came in late and is trying to catch up. Losing Daryl Washington sent a lot of things into flux at inside linebacker. One of these guys are vying for a depth role probably behind Kevin Minter, Larry Foote and Lorenzo Alexander.
Kickers Jay Feely, Chandler Catanzaro and Danny Hrapmann. This is another obvious one. Still it’s one to watch. It’s definitely a subject that seems to get the fans riled up — and looking around the league, it’s a position that tends to do that with the fan base, for whatever reason.
Running backs Robert Hughes, Jalen Parmele and Zach Bauman. Arians came out praising Hughes. He figures to be the top choice as the fourth running back behind Ellington, Dwyer and Taylor. But Parmele is another big guy who has played in the league and could sneak his way into the spot instead. What will be interesting is if the Cardinals want less of a bruiser as a fourth, like a Bauman, considering Dwyer is a big back and Taylor is more of a between-the-tackles guy too.
Wide receivers Jaron Brown, Walt Powell and Brittan Golden. The top four receiving spots are taken. Fitz is Fitz and Floyd is Floyd. Ted Ginn will have a role, as will third-round pick John Brown. Brown flashed last year but again, he’s got competition. He’s bigger than Powell and definitely Golden — Golden would seem to be in trouble given the arrival of Brown and Ginn — but Powell is a draft pick and that usually ends up playing a role if it’s close.
Quarterbacks Logan Thomas and Ryan Lindley. It’s hard to believe that, barring a meltdown, Thomas doesn’t find a way on to the roster. But you never know, and both players figure to get plenty of playing time in the preseason to let any battle play out in front of us.
Tags: Anthony Steen, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Brittan Golden, Chandler Catanzaro, Danny Hrapmann, Earl Watford, Ernie Sims, Jalen Parmele, Jaron Brown, Jay Feely, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Kenny Demens, Logan Thomas, Paul Fanaika, Robert Hughes, Roster, Ryan Lindley, Ted Larsen, training camp, Walt Powell, Zach Bauman
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Last week, Bobby Massie (at right tackle) and Earl Watford (right guard) started getting some work with the first unit. It wasn’t that surprising, given how open the job is right now. Bruce Arians clarified it a little more after Tuesday’s OTA, which again featured Massie and Watford with the first unit. By the time the Cards go through six OTAs, Arians said, Massie-Watford and Bradley Sowell-Paul Fanaika will each get three with the first unit. The reps will continue to be divvied up, and let’s face it, nothing can be determined now because offensive linemen aren’t even blocking now. There’s no way to prove yourself in the time of year when, as Arians likes to say, the Cardinals are just playing soccer. The true depth chart/starting jobs won’t be figured out until training camp and the preseason.
(Although, for instance, Massie must sidestep too many mental errors right now, the bugaboo that Arians and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin like to bring up.)
— Tuesday’s workout was moved an hour earlier with the heat. No bubble will be used when there are this many players. You can only have so many guys inside. Besides, Arians said, “we need the heat to get in shape.” They’ll get in shape, that’s for sure. With some missing players and the fact Arians uses two fields, all the main guys were taking a ton of reps Tuesday. If you were looking to see, for instance, Larry Fitzgerald vs. Antonio Cromartie, there were plenty of opportunities.
— The rookies are a little banged up after minicamp. First-round pick Deone Bucannon has a minor turf toe, Arians said. WR Walt Powell also had to sit out.
— The early thoughts on Andre Ellington from Arians? Hopefully 25 to 30 touches a game, which is a ton and basically unheard of these days for a running back. A lot of that will have to do with Ellington’s receptions (Arians has made no secret he wants to use Ellington a bunch as a receiver). There’s no question Ellington is the No. 1 back. How that translates to the stat sheet, we will see.
— Arians did say the Cardinals will use more two-back packages than last season, and that’s not the time when a tight end moves back there. There will be no true fullback on the roster, but both Jonathan Dwyer and Robert Hughes are beefy enough to be in there, I’d think.
— As the team waits on word about Daryl Washington’s status, Arians said he would like to add a veteran inside linebacker if the right guy came available. That’s not a big surprise.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowel, Bruce Arians, Daryl Washington, Deone Bucannon, Earl Watford, Harold Goodwin, Jonathan Dwyer, Paul Fanaika, Robert Hughes, Walter Powell
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The Cardinals have re-signed their practice squad players to futures contracts, according to the New Year’s Day NFL transactions list. That’s not a surprise as the Cards begin the process to building the offseason roster. A futures contract simply locks up the practice squad players — who would be free agents once the league year ends in early March — to contracts for 2014.
The players are:
— C Philip Blake (spent much of the season on practice squad injured reserve)
— WR Dan Buckner
— LB Kenny Demens
— C Tommie Draheim
— TE Darren Fells
— RB Robert Hughes
— S Orhian Johnson
— DT Anthony McCloud
— LB Kenny Rowe
Tags: Anthony McCloud, Dan Buckner, Darren Fells, Kenny Demens, Kenny Rowe, Orhian Johnson, Philip Blake, practice squad, Robert Hughes, Tommie Draheim
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