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D-Line wants to earn the shake and the apple pie

Posted by Darren Urban on May 25, 2017 – 3:49 pm

Brentson Buckner is a guru of the defensive line, and the way he phrases things to get across his point is gold for a writer. Buckner was known as a great quote as a player, and it hasn’t changed. Talking to him about Robert Nkemdiche, the Cardinals’ defensive line coach provided his philosophy about teaching young players. Fortunately, it was after lunch, because otherwise, it would have left me hungry.

“I’m not going to chew their food up and then give it to them,” Buckner said. “I’m going to teach you how to chew it yourself, because when you chew it yourself, you’ll be more satisfied.

“Now, I’m not going to give you a whole bunch to eat. I might start you with the little person’s plate. The older guys, they get the big daddy plate. But the little guys, they start with the Happy Meal. Then I’ll move you up to the quarter pounder with cheese, and before you know it, you can get the nuggets, the Big Mac, the shake and the apple pie. Because guess what, you can chew it and swallow it yourself and it won’t overwhelm you. Know what I’m saying?”


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Bidwill, potential Cards and second chances

Posted by Darren Urban on March 3, 2017 – 10:52 am

This year more than any other, potential NFL draftees with off-field red flags have been highlighted here at the Scouting combine, in large part because some are not here. The NFL didn’t invite a few players who normally would have been otherwise if it weren’t for off-field trouble. That has generated mixed reviews from NFL people, although Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said he was glad to see it and send the message the NFL is “not messing around with this.”

(My full chat with Bidwill will be posted Monday on azcardinals.com.)

The Cardinals haven’t shied away from drafting players with off-field question marks, however. They’ve shown that with Tyrann Mathieu and Robert Nkemdiche. Bidwill, as owner, has the ultimate say over who will stay available on the Cards’ draft board, and who will not.

“It started with my grandfather and my father, and I am following in their footsteps, that we’re not going to have bad character guys,” Bidwill said. “That doesn’t mean that people don’t make mistakes, in college especially. They are kids. They are 18 when they get to college. We should give people a second chance if they are truly earnest about turning their life around. That’s my role, to make that decision. They push those decisions up to me.

“There are clearly some kids still getting in trouble their junior, senior year that look like they are going to have a chronic problem and I don’t want to waste my time talking to them.”

Still, Bidwill said, there are players that the football side will “bring to me and say, ‘We want to try and convince you.’ ” One was Mathieu, who was aided in Patrick Peterson’s willingness to stand on the table and vouch for Mathieu. Nkemdiche went through a number of interviews with the Cards last year, including a sit-down with Bidwill. Whether any potential Card falls into that category this year, that’s what these next couple of months are for.

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Humphries, Nkemdiche and Year 2

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2017 – 9:50 am

D.J. Humphries’ rookie year was a washout. He knew that, even if it made sense he needed to mature both physically and mentally when it came to playing in the NFL. His second year, he was a starter all season (until he suffered a concussion late in the season) and definitely had improvement, to the point where Humphries is the early choice to play left tackle this season. He’s anxious to build on that in 2017, which was underscored by his tweet today:

The work needed, and Humphries’ step forward in his second year, made me think of Robert Nkemdiche.

Like Humphries, Nkemdiche’s rookie season was a washout. Nkemdiche was actually active for a handful of games (unlike Humphries) but he didn’t make an impact. He knew, as did his coaches, that he hadn’t been ready for the NFL. That, according to both Nkemdiche and his coaches, improved near the end of the season. Recently, when talking about his breakout choices for 2017, General Manager Steve Keim brought up Nkemdiche. Make no mistake — the Cardinals will need Nkemdiche to take at the very least a Humphries-like step forward in his second year. Calais Campbell very well could leave as a free agent, and besides, Nkemdiche was a first-round pick — you have to have your first-round picks have significant development year to year.

It’s an important offseason not only for the Cardinals (who could have some significant defensive changes) but for Nkemdiche.

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Ankle sidelines Nkemdiche in finale

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 12:57 pm

The ankle injury defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche suffered in practice this week will cost the rookie the last game of the year, as he is inactive for the finale against the Rams in Los Angeles. Other than that, a relatively normal inactive list:

— QB Zac Dysert

— WR Marquis Bundy

— CB Brian Dixon

— DT Olsen Pierre

— T D.J. Humphries (concussion)

— DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)

— DT Ed Stinson


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Thursday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2016 – 4:26 pm

The Cardinals actually won the first game played (that counted) at what is now CenturyLink Field.

It was 2002, and Thomas Jones had his best game as a Card and even though Jake Plummer couldn’t do much, the Cards knocked off the Seahawks, 24-13, the second week of the regular season. The building was simply a new building back then, certainly not the intimidating factor it has grown to be (although, as with most places, the stadium is intimidating when the team playing there is good. If the team playing there isn’t as good, not so much.)

The Cards with Carson Palmer have been good there. Two Palmer starts, two Cardinals wins. When the Cardinals lost in 2014, Palmer was injured and Drew Stanton was behind center. Palmer will be there Saturday, but the team around him is beat up and broken down. It’s not how the Cardinals wanted this matchup to be, especially with the Seahawks in mostly better shape than the first time these teams met this season. But the NFC West has been determined, the Cards are out of the playoffs and all there is for the Cardinals to spoil Seattle’s hopes for that No. 2 seed. Which isn’t nothing, but this game was supposed to be about so much more.

— Well, offensive line of John Wetzel, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Taylor Boggs and Earl Watford, welcome to Seattle. They held up OK against the Saints, but, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, this is a different animal, no?

“This is a very different animal,” Goodwin said. “It’s from outer space. It’s not necessarily an animal, it’s an alien.”

Goodwin said he hasn’t really said much to the group along those lines, however.

“To be honest, I leave them alone,” Goodwin said. “You don’t want to do too much talking. The film speaks for itself. The place we are going this weekend, the crowd noise … we know what we are up against.”

— That’s why the Cardinals need to be able to run the ball — it’s nice having David Johnson for that, although Johnson had to grind out his yardage in the first meeting, the infamous 6-6 tie. There can’t be penalties or sacks. Get at least a little something on each down. “This is not the place you want to go, this is not the team you want to see, in third-and-long,” Goodwin said.

— I don’t know how far Robert Nkemdiche has come yet. But I think it’s been proven that Bruce Arians wouldn’t give him praise unless something has gotten better. Doubtful we’ll see much the last two games, although he will play. It’s about 2017 for the first-round pick.

— Injuries always play a factor, but not having money linebacker Deone Bucannon against the mobile Russell Wilson tends to give one pause. Bucannon’s ability to run is unmatched by the guys filling in for him, and Wilson is clearly running better than how he did in the first meeting when he was hobbled with injuries.

— The secondary is also hurting. Arians acknowledged cornerback Marcus Cooper probably wouldn’t be able to play Saturday — if he doesn’t play, rookie Brandon Williams (who missed practice Thursday with a tight back) would get the start. Justin Bethel, who did say his foot is finally feeling better after the stress fracture that has hampered him for two seasons, remains behind Williams on the depth chart.

— There doesn’t seem to be any indication Tyrann Mathieu won’t play — the Cards need the bodies right now — but Mathieu playing and Mathieu being Honey Badger are two separate things. Arians on Mathieu’s play against the Saints: “He gave it everything he had. It ain’t Ty.” UPDATE: I guess I was wrong. Mathieu went to IR on Friday.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on whether the defense took last weekend’s meltdown against the Saints personally. “Absolutely we took it personally,” Bettcher said. “There wasn’t a guy on our defensive staff and there wasn’t a guy  in the locker room that wasn’t extremely disappointed in our performance. It wasn’t acceptable, it wasn’t up to our standard, that’s me included. It wasn’t up to my standard. We all own that.”

— Michael Floyd finally met with the New England media and talked about his DUI.

— Larry Fitzgerald said he has talked to David Johnson a lot about how to handle his burgeoning stardom off the field, like Emmitt Smith did with Fitz when Fitz first came into the league. For instance, Fitzgerald told Johnson to be fully dressed and “buttoned-up” when he talks after the game in front of the camera — you never know when a decision-maker at a company might see you and want you to be a spokesman.

“He doesn’t need a lot of advice,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s like a Christmas toy under the tree that doesn’t need any assembly. He’s out-of-the-box-ready.”

— Johnson, by the way, would tie Barry Sanders’ record for consecutive games with 100 scrimmage yards in 15 straight games in a season if he can reach that milestone Saturday.

— Bring on Seattle. Bring on 39 degrees and chilly rain. Bring on what always promises to be an interesting road trip.

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Keim: Agent talks ongoing with FAs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2016 – 8:18 am

Steve Keim noted — as was easy to see — that Calais Campbell played well in the loss to the Saints. And the Cardinals General Manager is not unaware of all the talk — including by Campbell himself — that Campbell might not be with the Cardinals next season with his free agency coming up (Campbell has made pretty clear he’d like to stay, but it’s a business.) The Cardinals have a lot of players who are about to become free agents. Keim, speaking on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, emphasized Monday it’s not like the Cards aren’t trying to be proactive with their roster.

“One thing public does not generally know, we have spoken to many agents regarding players whose contracts expire after the season and some whose contracts do not expire after the season that we’d just like to try to extend,” Keim said. “It takes two sides. Those are conversations I’ll keep to myself, that we don’t generally talk about through the media. There are several players we’d like to have back, but it takes two sides.”

— Keim said the Michael Floyd situation and subsequent release was “an unfortunate incident for both sides. Michael has moved on and we have moved on and I wish him nothing but the best.”

Keim was also asked about the reaction from the players about Floyd’s release — it wasn’t hard to see Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t thrilled with the situation — and whether the team talked to the leaders in the locker room about the move.

“No, I think the one thing, as players, you never can tell what they are thinking,” Keim said. “There is no doubt there is a tremendous amount of loyalty from player to player, which you have to respect. These guys are in the locker room and they are fighting and they are competing. There is a natural love. And listen, it’s no different as an organization, you get emotionally attached to these players. So when you have to make tough decisions it’s extremely difficult because you don’t just think of guys as football players. You also care about the person.”

(As for the reasons why Floyd was cut, team president Michael Bidwill addressed those Sunday.)

— Overall, with the playoffs officially gone, Keim said his biggest disappointment was that the team “underachieved.” He wants to use the lost season as a learning tool. Along those lines, it includes the need to build the “right kind of locker room.” Looking at a guy’s physical tools sometimes can overshadow the smarts a player has or his ability to process information, which need to be factored in.

“That’s the hardest to see as an evaluator, the heart and the mind,” Keim said.

— Keim liked what he saw from Carson Palmer Sunday, as well as Smokey Brown, Campbell and Tony Jefferson. He thought the offensive line held up “fairly well” given their circumstances. As for some of the newer/younger guys, he noticed linebacker Scooby Wright make a good block on special teams and guard Taylor Boggs hold up after being beat early. Linebacker Sio Moore was active, although Keim acknowledged he got beat a few times later in the game. As for rookies Brandon Williams and Robert Nkemdiche, Keim was muted in his praise but he still gave some, saying Nkemdiche flashed a couple of times and he still feels both will improve heading into 2017.

“Like I said last week, we’re using these last three games as somewhat of a litmus test of where you want to go in 2017 (with the roster),” Keim said.


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Nkemdiche active against Saints

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2016 – 12:38 pm

The Cardinals had a lot of roster change this week with injuries and other moves impacting the roster, and that includes the inactive list against the Saints. Coach Bruce Arians praised the practice work of first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche, and now Nkemdiche will be active against New Orleans. I’m sure he’ll have to show some things today and in practice to remain active every week the rest of the way, but it’s a good sign, and Nkemdiche could use some momentum heading into the offseason.

Young wide receiver and local product Marquis Bundy is also active, for the first time. As expected, tight end Jermaine Gresham, safety Tyrann Mathieu and wide receiver John Brown are also playing. The full inactive list:

— QB Zac Dysert

— WR Jeremy Ross

— CB Tharold Simon

— DT Olsen Pierre

— T D.J. Humphries (concussion)

— DT Xavier Williams

— DT Ed Stinson


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Friday before the Saints

Posted by Darren Urban on December 16, 2016 – 4:21 pm

Larry Fitzgerald slowly sat in the chair in front of his locker for his weekly meeting with the press.

“The body is definitely feeling Week 15-ish and 33-ish,” Fitzgerald said with a weary smile.

The season has taken a toll on the Cardinals physically. You can see that in the lengthy injured reserve list alone. An inability to reach expectations has taken a toll mentally too, and that was apparent this week with the virtual elimination from the playoffs and the Michael Floyd situation.

“When things are not going the way you expected or hoped it would go, it does feel not only worse on the body but it feels like the season is longer,” Fitzgerald said. “I remember last year, I woke up and we were in the playoffs. It was like it was fast forward the whole season. I guess that’s how it goes when you are having fun and enjoying it and things are kind of clicking.”

Things have not been clicking for the Cards, not lately, and not enough. You think back to the last time the Saints were in town and the Cardinals beat them, 31-19, in the 2015 opener in a game sealed by David Johnson’s first touchdown.

Man, that seems like a lifetime ago.

— With a ton of free agents and even the possibility of a Fitzgerald retirement, this could be the last home game for a lot of guys. One is defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who will be a free agent and as we noted last week, may be too expensive to keep. So this could be his last home game too.

“It’s only natural to think back and realize that possibility,” Campbell said on his Big Red Rage radio show Thursday night. “It’s a harsh reality but it is reality. I really want to embrace it and enjoy it. It’s sad — it’s been nine years and I’ve had an unbelievable time playing at University of Phoenix Stadium and playing with the Arizona Cardinals in front of these amazing Birdgang fans. It’s been quite the ride, so I’m looking forward to it and hopefully we can make some good things happen.”

“It’s definitely going to be emotional,” Campbell added. “Probably going to have to hold back some tears.”

— Bruce Arians said newcomer Scooby Wright will be active Sunday. The former University of Arizona star will play special teams. I don’t expect him to play defense. Sio Moore is replacing Deone Bucannon in the defensive lineup.

— It’ll be interesting to see how the new offensive line holds up and how much quarterback Carson Palmer will have to endure. This week is one thing, but the Cards face the daunting defensive fronts of the Seahawks and Rams — on the road — the final two games.

— Palmer insisted he wasn’t worried about the line. He was going to play behind whomever was out there and it would be fine. So, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, if Palmer says he’s not worried, does that make you feel better?

“If he’s not worried, I’m not worried — but I’m always worried,” Goodwin said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”

— Arians wouldn’t say that rookie first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche would play Sunday, although he didn’t rule it out. He did say Nkemdiche was “working hard.” It was a more positive take on the defensive tackle. Hopefully that’s good news.

— It’s so cool to see Tim Hightower still having some NFL success. I still remember being on the field, standing on the sidelines at the 10, watching him pile into the end zone to win the NFC championship.

— This is, by the way, the 200th career game for Fitzgerald.

— One home game left. In some ways, it does seem like it flew by. But mostly, Fitz is right — kickoff against the Patriots seems years past, and not just months.

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Fitz in Miami, and Friday before the Dolphins

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2016 – 3:01 pm

It’s been a big week for Larry Fitzgerald. Becomes the player with the third-most catches in NFL history, is chosen as the Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year (and will it surprise anyone if Fitz is one of the three finalists?) and now, gets to go back to where he first had a game-winning touchdown.

You remember, right? Denny Green’s first year, Fitz’s rookie year, and the last time the Cardinals actually played in Miami. It was 2004, and Fitz’s 48-yard bomb with about a minute left set up his two-yard touchdown catch with 23 seconds left. It snapped a 17-game road losing streak for the Cards (those were the days …) and got Fitzgerald to the postgame interview podium for the first time.

He didn’t like it. It was a short and, if I recall correctly, much too awkward of an interview for a guy who just scored the game-winning points. But life is much different these days for Fitz. That was the day, coming off a personal shutout in the rain in Buffalo, that Fitz started his still-active streak of 191 straight games with a catch.

“That’s a long time ago,” Fitzgerald said.

Indeed it was.

Are these two Miami trips going to essentially bookend Fitz’s career? He was asked this week about catching Tony Gonzalez and/or Jerry Rice on that receptions list. Gonzalez is about 200 receptions in front of Fitzgerald.

“I won’t catch either of those guys,” Fitzgerald said, adding, “I don’t plan on playing long enough to catch both those guys.”

What does that mean? It would seem to put a damper on the idea Fitz will play past 2017, since the rest of this season plus next season plus, say, 2018, would seem to put him in Gonzalez range. So at this point – although Fitzgerald was quick to say he wasn’t making any kind of retirement announcement – Fitz’s time seems to be short. He’s obviously a lot closer to the end than the beginning. Trips to Miami mark the time.

— The Cardinals may adjust their offensive line again, with the possibility of Earl Watford returning to the lineup at right guard for John Wetzel. Watford got hurt at the end of the Minnesota game, and while he was healthy enough to play the last couple games, Wetzel instead got the call. Goodwin called Watford’s year “up and down.”

“It’s probably not where he wants it, not where I want it to be,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “I have high expectations of him, as a player and a person.”

Arians said Watford is healthy again, and simply, he has more experience than Wetzel. That’s a big deal going up against what can be a nasty Dolphins defensive line,

— With rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche hurting his elbow in practice and missing parts of practice all week, I don’t think anyone has to wonder if this is the week he makes it back to the Sunday active list.

— Guys like Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson are going back to Miami to play for the first time and are excited. John Brown is also headed home for the first time, although it’s a much different vibe. Although Goodwin said Brown played well last week in his limited snaps – Arians had noted Smoke was open deep a couple of times, although the Cards couldn’t get him the ball – he didn’t have a catch and has just 31 receptions this season.

“Just going through it is kind of frustrating,” Brown said. “But everyone in here has my back. The coaches have my back. I’ll get through it. It’s just a small bump in the road.”

Brown did say he hasn’t played in front of his family since high school, so he is looking forward to doing so.

— Fitz, on whether rest days have helped the arm of Carson Palmer. “His arm has always looked good,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s 36 years old, you know he’s capable of doing everything. You don’t need to see it every day.”

— Arians was asked about the comparison to Tyrann Mathieu — who won’t play Sunday because of his bad shoulder — and former Colts safety Bob Sanders, who had an excellent career cut short because of injuries. Sanders was also undersized.

“Totally different players,” Arians said. “Bob was a box guy who would just knock your socks off all the time, but his body couldn’t take his bravado. Ty plays the game a different way. It’s just been bad luck.”

— After failing to score on the opening possession all season, the Cardinals have scored a touchdown on the opening drive each of the last two games. Palmer said the Cards have put a focus on it. I asked what does that exactly mean, since you figure they are working on all the plays equally.

“I wish there was one reason or five reasons,” Palmer said. “There are a ton of reasons why that happens. It’s not like all of a sudden Coach put together a really good opening drive. It is not like all of a sudden we didn’t make a mistake on the opening drive. I think if you looked at that and compared it to all the other opening drives, there are probably less mistakes, but there is no rhyme or reason or perfect formula, obviously, or else everybody would be doing it.”

— With no roster moves as of yet, it seems unlikely the Cardinals will make a move with practice squad punter Matt Wile this week. So I expect Drew Butler to have his regular duties against the Dolphins.

— The Cardinals win this weekend, and the last month of this season can be very, very interesting. A loss, and you’re talking about 2017.

FITZGERALD HOWARD


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Keim: Floyd, Nkemdiche and the future

Posted by Darren Urban on November 28, 2016 – 8:25 am

General Manager Steve Keim lamented Sunday’s loss, noting as many have the same issues the Cardinals have suffered through all season. He was asked during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Monday if he was now going to start working on 2017. Keim wants to see wins now, but the question was unnecessary, since Keim is always looking at the future. He was doing so back in training camp. Keim has long talked about taking a three-year view on the roster.

There are things now that impact later, however. In particular, Keim talked about wide receiver Michael Floyd, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Keim was asked if Floyd’s rough season made it more likely the Cards brought him back because his price may go down, or less likely because he has struggled so much.

“I know he’s disappointed and frustrated,” Keim said. “In the past, there’s been some inconsistencies, whether it was dropped balls or other things that came with his game. At the same time he made big plays to compensate for that. That’s the one area where, quite frankly, we haven’t seen this year.”

As for Floyd’s future with the team, Keim said those are discussions that will be made internally. But “whether a guy returns to your team or not, listen, we get emotionally attached to these guys. I want the best for all of them. He’s a guy I am rooting for and hopefully he can turn it around with five games left in the season and have some success for his livelihood. You never want to see a guy underachieve or have the misfortune of hitting the market and getting underpaid. I’m hoping all these guys have success. If they have success, we have success.”

— Keim was asked whether first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche should be playing late in the season.

“Until he earns it and learns how to be a true pro, he has to sit,” Keim said.

Keim compared it to the learning year for D.J. Humphries last season. “It’s on Robert,” Keim added. “He has all the skills, which is the good news, to be a great one. But until Robert understands what comes with being a great player, he’ll be on the bench. That’s the thing Coach and I have always been committed to. Regardless what your salary is, regardless of where you were drafted, you’re going to have to earn your spot on the field.”

— More generally for the future, “we have some plans and ideas in place we think will strengthen this team going forward,” Keim said. He added that as disappointing as the season has been, he believes there are enough core pieces in place — both in age and contractually — that whatever happens after the season with player movement “I don’t think it’s a complete revamp of this team to make it better.”

— Humphries at left tackle was a bright spot, Keim said. The GM said Humphries looks natural at left tackle (which makes sense, since that is Humphries’ natural spot.) As for Ulrick John, Keim said he thought he did a “nice job” until late in the game, when some twists and stunts got to him and right guard John Wetzel.

— Keim lamented the lack of a big play when needed. He was particularly disappointed with the Calais Campbell offsides on the punt late in the game — a play in which the Cards weren’t even rushing the punter — which kept an eventual TD drive alive.

— He was asked about a possible problem with chemistry. “That’s a good question,” Keim said. “In my position, when you put together a team and you look at it on your board … and we’re potentially more talented than we have been the past three years when we had success, but at the same time these guys have to come together.

“I don’t think it’s any secret we haven’t done that yet. It’s the little things, the accountability. That’s a great question and it’s hard for me to answer. Only the 53 guys in that locker room can answer that.”


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