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After practice: Nkemdiche as teaching tool

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2017 – 4:51 pm

There is a flip side to teaching Robert Nkemdiche, who, make no mistake, is still trying to learn how to play his position on the defensive line. Every day, you can see Nkemdiche’s power and athleticism and effort as he tries to bury his disappointing rookie season, but in technique and discipline (making sure he doesn’t jump offsides), he is still in-progress.

But the power/athleticism/effort also gives offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin a powerful tool when it comes to teaching his young players. Specifically, rookie fourth-round guard Dorian Johnson, who many times has been set up to face Nkemdiche. Before these matchups, Goodwin talks to Nkemdiche as much as Johnson, and given the intensity in which Nkemdiche attacks, it’s some serious on-the-job training.

The final one-on-one rep was a Nkemdiche win, pushing Johnson way back. Clearly Johnson isn’t ready to play this season, but this is how he gets better, and that Nkemdiche can help in the cause is an interesting turn, given where he was at as a player last season when he was a rookie.

— Left tackle D.J. Humphries was out working with the first unit most of practice for the first time since hurting his hamstring. “This whole situation kind of taught me to listen to my body a little bit, that you’re not in college anymore,” Humphries said. “It felt good today.”

— Wide receiver John Brown did look better at practice, making a handful of receptions in 11-on-11.

— Veteran receiver Jeremy Ross has picked up his play the last couple of days. And he looked like he was running ahead of J.J. Nelson Wednesday.

— Tight end Ifeanyi Momah made another nice reception and like previous camps, has proven himself as a receiver. They already like his special teams work. He should have a spot on the roster. He needs to continue to work on his blocking.

— LB Terrence Waugh left practice with some sort of leg injury.

— Earlier in the day, Bruce Arians noted that the best down-the-depth-chart receiver had been “‘Little Smoke” Chris Hubert. “He’s been wide-ass open,” Arians said. “We just haven’t hit him.” Early in practice, Hubert ran a nice route to the right sideline of the end zone, and he was wide open. Blaine Gabbert’s pass was too wide, however.

— Patrick Peterson made a nice interception, running the route ahead of wide receiver Jaron Brown. Safety Harlan Miller also had a pick. Rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, back from an ankle issue, had an impressive diving TD catch.

— The first-team offense ran a quick screen to Jaron Brown. Tyrann Mathieu smelled it out and would have made a quick line-of-scrimmage tackle, if, you know, they were actually tackling. “C’mon dog, you gotta set it up better than that!” Mathieu yelled. “Too easy! Too easy!”


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After practice: Hurting John Brown “can’t rush it”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 5:32 pm

For the first time in a couple of weeks, John Brown worked in 11-on-11 situations in practice Tuesday. He didn’t run every rep he normally would, because he is, by his own admission after practice, not healed from his quad injury. It was a sullen Smoke who talked about his situation. He clearly knows his absence is felt, and he realizes many want him back on the field. But the wideout made it plain he wasn’t going to rush the process.

“I understand the situation at receiver but I’m just going to come back when I’m ready,” Brown said.

Brown knows his injury history. He’s also key to this offense. If he can get healthy in another week or two, that’s probably good enough. He needs to be healthy when the games count.

“I can’t rush it,” Brown added. “My body is different than others. They expect me to come back fast, but I can’t.”

All the receivers heard Bruce Arians’ message from the day before. Larry Fitzgerald was supposed to have a rest day Tuesday. He was out there practicing. On one touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hubert — who didn’t catch the ball as much as he was forced to catch the ball, barely turning around before a Trevor Knight laser lodged in his stomach — Fitzgerald bellowed “We’ve got 12 who can play! We’ve got 12 who can play in the league!”

— It wasn’t a perfect day for on-notice receivers. Rookie Chad Williams got two yards behind a defender and QB Blaine Gabbert dropped in a gorgeous 39-yard bomb perfectly, only to have the ball go through Williams’ arms. But the dropsies went both ways. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, safety Harlan Miller and linebacker Cap Capi all dropped sure interceptions. Capi would easily have had a pick-6 on a throw to the flat.

— Robert Nkemdiche was getting reps in one-on-ones against offensive linemen every time through a unit — first-string, second-string, third-string. The last time through he exploded into and through the chest of rookie guard Dorian Johnson. Clearly, Nkemdiche still needs to work on proper technique. But if he doesn’t get it, it won’t be for lack of coaching.

— DT Frostee Rucker was also supposed to have an off day but like Fitz, he practiced. Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson and Karlos Dansby sat. G Mike Iupati stopped taking reps midway through practice — not sure if it was injury-related, but Cole Toner worked with the first unit — and linebacker Josh Bynes also left practice early. Linebacker Markus Golden (ankle) missed a second straight practice.

— Finally, if there was any question about how hard it is to cover running back David Johnson on pass plays, it was painfully evident. Linebackers have no chance — Johnson twisted up Haason Reddick, Chandler Jones and Scooby Wright at different times. It’s not fair, really.


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Keim: David Johnson needs reps

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2017 – 8:16 am

Running back David Johnson only played a few snaps for the Cardinals Saturday, getting three touches — all runs, for 16 yards — on the first four plays. He was stood up on his last carry and took a shot, although General Manager Steve Keim said he wasn’t concerned.

“It’s going to be tough to hurt a 228-pound back,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Keim also made one other thing clear: While there might be a feeling like placing Johnson in bubble wrap until the Cardinals get to the regular season could be the best course of action, it is not. “As good as he is,” Keim added, “he needs the reps as well.” There’s no substitute for getting action in a full-speed football game when it comes to getting ready for full-speed football games. That’s the reality, risk or not.

Among some of the other Keim thoughts from the morning:

— After the constant talk the past two camps about the progress of D.J. Humphries (two years ago) and Robert Nkemdiche (last year), Keim was asked if there had been anyone in particular he has been disappointed or frustrated with this camp. Keim said no. The GM admitted that early in camp he might’ve been frustrated with second-year cornerback Brandon Williams from a consistency standpoint, “but he’s picked it up. He’s working his tail off. … He’s come a long way.”

Keim said he can’t think of anyone underachieving, and given Keim’s ability to be blunt like his head coach, that’s a good sign.

— Not surprisingly, one guy Keim was pleased about from Saturday’s game was linebacker Josh Bynes. Bynes picked up the defense quickly, and Keim likes his range, speed and length. “He’s had some success in the past,” Keim said, and echoed what has become clear, that Bynes has a shot at the roster.

— Keim was happy with offensive execution and the physical play from the Cardinals. He was hoping for a three-and-out from the first-team defense after the initial TD (it should be noted the Raiders didn’t play starting quarterback Derek Carr), but that’s one of a handful of things the Cards can work on this week.

— There are still many things to improve for Nkemdiche, Keim said. But he did say Nkemdiche is “headed in the right direction,” praising his want-to, work ethic and film study.

— Film study will be important to the top two draft picks, linebacker Haason Reddick and Budda Baker. Both need to keep working on getting their eyes in the right place during plays, understanding what the offense is doing and finding a balance between quality aggressiveness and staying disciplined.

— Both punters had “extremely live legs” but Keim emphasized it’s not just the length of punts that are judged but also hang time, ball placement and such.


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Raiders aftermath, as Stanton shines

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2017 – 12:01 am

It was a new perspective for me Saturday night, with my new preseason duties as sideline radio reporter putting me down on the field the whole game. The focus goes up when there isn’t Twitter to watch and interact with, that’s for sure. The Cardinals had most things go exactly how they’d like them to have gone. The injuries were limited and minor, and the first-team offense was solid.

But the fact Drew Stanton played so well (11-of-15 passing) was helpful. One, it helps define what the rest of the preseason is about, and in the case of the quarterbacks, that’s whether Blaine Gabbert is someone to keep as a third quarterback rather than supplanting Stanton as No. 2 (not that it was ever that close to being a battle anyway.) The Cardinals took a flier on Gabbert to see if he might have some future value. The plan was always for Stanton to remain No. 2. Stanton’s poise in the pocket impressed Saturday. He also praised strength coach Buddy Morris and that crew for preparing his body so well, noting it’s made a difference. Whatever the reason Stanton got off to such a good start — he had as many completions against the Raiders as he did all of the 2016 preseason — the Cardinals will take it.

— Same with Carson Palmer, who looked sharp. There were a couple of near misses. The Cards will lament greatly if Palmer slightly overthrows a wide-open Jaron Brown for what should’ve been a 46-yard touchdown if it had been the regular season. But the bullet to Brittan Golden for a touchdown was nice, and Palmer maneuvered the pocket well.

— David Johnson, 3 carries for 16 yards. I’m not sure I’d need to see him at all the rest of the preseason. He looked fine.

— Golden is one of those guys who just makes it so hard to cut. Three catches for 44 yards and a score, and he’s good on special teams.

— The punters weren’t busy, but they clearly got the message from coach Bruce Arians. Each only punted once. Matt Wile crushed a 65-yarder (net of 56), Richie Leone launched a 61-yarder (net of 45). Wile’s kickoffs were impressive all night too. In fact, special teams did pretty well. Josh Mauro had a blocked field goal and Kerwynn Williams had a 35-yard kickoff return and a 13-yard punt return. Phil Dawson nailed both field goal tries and two extra points with ease (Wile missed a 46-yard field goal, but again, he won’t be trying field goals when it counts.)

— Linebacker Josh Bynes had a team-best six tackles, a half-sack, a tackle-for-loss, a big forced fumble and a pass breakup. He’s a vet, last of the Lions, signed because of injuries — and you have to wonder if he could make a push for a roster spot. he and Scooby Wright could be fighting for a possible place.

— Gabbert had a tougher time in Game 2, but part of that was the blocking, which didn’t hold up all that well. Gabbert took four sacks. That can’t happen, either with him or with the line.

— Did we mention that DT Robert Nkemdiche is playing well? He did again Saturday — he blew up a third-and-1 play for the Raiders, and was in the middle of stuffing the Raiders on the very next fourth down try — and you can see the confidence is feeding into his upswing. If he plays well, the line will be fine, even post-Calais.

OK, it’s midnight. Cards are off Sunday and back to training camp practice Monday.


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Friday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2017 – 3:02 pm

Finally, some starters.

It could be quick for either of the units against the Raiders. As in years past, if the Cardinals carve up Oakland for an 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession, or the defense forces a couple of quick punts, I could see Bruce Arians sitting down his main guys. To me, this game is important for the offense and the collective confidence. Carson Palmer sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices, so I’m curious to see how that comes together – especially since the receiving crew, beyond Fitz, has been up and down and injured in camp thus far.

Defensively, it sure seems the confidence is there. Robert Nkemdiche is breaking out. Tyrann Mathieu is full-fledged Honey Badger-y. And Palmer and Bruce Arians believe this has been Patrick Peterson’s best camp yet.

Peterson, as usual, is thinking big.

“If you want to be remembered somewhere where you can be forever – which is Canton – those are the things I can control, make sure to continue building up my résumé,” Peterson said (pictured here with Cardinals Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams).

Some other things to think about before the Cards get to a second preseason game, and the Raiders play their first:

— The players in particular I want to watch in the game, even if it is for limited time: CB Justin Bethel, LB Haason Reddick, DT Olsen Pierre, G Evan Boehm, RT Jared Veldheer, WR Jaron Brown and all three QBs: Palmer, Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert.

Some played last week, some did not. Veldheer still hasn’t played right tackle in a game. Seeing Bethel under the lights is important. I want to see how Gabbert follows up with his impressive debut and how Stanton responds to all the Gabbert discussion.

— Arians again praised Stanton all week. I also thought it was interesting to hear Arians speak about Stanton and his hits and misses in practice:

“There has been an interception or two, some are not his fault,” Arians said. “Sometimes when you are running with those twos and threes, guys aren’t where they are supposed to be and you try to force one. I do like that, see if you can get it in that window and see if you can or can’t. No big deal if you throw a pick.”

Dunno if that applies to preseason games as well.

— Punter is something to watch as well. Arians said he wanted to see more from either Matt Wile or Richie Leone (preferably both, but one is enough). I’d guess they will split the punts again. If you can’t punt well at University of Phoenix Stadium – where this and next week’s games are – that’s a red flag.

— We’ll get to see Kerwynn Williams get run as a return man. We know Williams can return kicks OK. How he will do on punts – and whether he could manage that job with T.J. Logan out – is what is in the spotlight.

— Two weeks of training camp left at the stadium. As of now, seven practices are scheduled to be open to the public: Monday through Thursday next week, and Monday through Wednesday the week after.

— Finally, for those who are looking for my constant in-game tweeting, that will drop off quite a bit in the preseason. For the next four games, with Paul Calvisi in the radio booth doing play-by-play, I will be on the sideline as the reporter for the radio broadcasts on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. (And for those who don’t like my constant in-game tweeting, you win!)


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After practice: Looking at the receivers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2017 – 6:12 pm

Bruce Arians had just said earlier Thursday the wide receivers as a whole had to pick up their level of play. It was a little easier for the wideouts at practice because, with the team in shells, there wasn’t a lot of tight coverage (contact was relatively limited, especially downfield.) Rookie Krishawn Hogan stood out with a couple of nice early catches, but he couldn’t corral a couple others later on. It’ll be interesting to see how much certain guys play against the Raiders, especially given all the injuries. Chad Williams and John Brown are iffy, Aaron Dobson is sidelined, and there was another guy going down in practice.

— That guy was rookie wide receiver Carlton Agudosi, who suffered some kind of right leg/knee injury. I didn’t see what happened, but after one play Agudosi was down in the end zone. Larry Fitzgerald came over to see if he was OK, and eventually, he and Brittan Golden helped Agudosi up and served as crutches so Agudosi could hobble over to a cart, where he was driven to the locker room. Arians doesn’t talk again until after the game Saturday.

— Quarterback Carson Palmer was off of practice for a second straight day, interesting since Palmer will get the start Saturday. Arians didn’t mention at lunch Palmer would be sitting. Linebacker Karlos Dansby was also sitting out.

— Quarterback Drew Stanton had a beautiful deep ball early in practice, hitting J.J. Nelson well down the field.

— Assistant equipment manager Jeff Schwimmer made an outstanding one-handed grab of a Fitzgerald pass after one play. Fitz needs to get his passes down for his shorter receivers.

— C Daniel Munyer also limped to the locker room with a trainer at the end of practice.

— There was a nice TD pass from Trevor Knight to Golden at one point, but the pass only happened because Robert Nkemdiche wasn’t allowed to complete the sack he was inevitably going to get. The defense would have had quite a few sacks Thursday.

— Finally, a Knight bullet intended for Agudosi near the back of the end zone instead was picked off quite nicely at the goal line by leaping linebacker Josh Bynes.


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Nkemdiche rises to the ones “a lot now”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2017 – 2:01 pm

Robert Nkemdiche may not officially be a starter on the depth chart, but the way the Cardinals’ defensive line rotation is going to work, he’ll likely work as much as those on the field first. Coach Bruce Arians said he will likely dress six defensive linemen on game days this season, and it’ll be a rotation — probably moreso than when Pro Bowler Calais Campbell was there to eat up a lot of snaps. Nkemdiche, who has had a very good camp, is showing he should be near the front of the line.

“He’s playing with the ones a lot now,” Arians said Thursday.

Nkemdiche got a chance to take a rep against first-team guard Evan Boehm in one-on-ones Wednesday, and bested Boehm. Nkemdiche remains modest in how he talks about where he is as a player, but the head-down-full-speed approach has been working.

— Arians likes the improvement from all along the defensive line. One guy that seems to be an underrated lock to be in the rotation is Olsen Pierre, whom Arians continues to compliment.

— Two receivers, Chad Williams (shin splints) and John Brown (quad) are questionable to play Saturday. T D.J. Humphries (hamstring) is also a game-day decision, although Arians said if there is any question Saturday, he’ll sit.

— Arians said he’s looking for the wide receivers to get much better. “That’s the group that really needs to pick it up,” he said. Injuries have slowed the unit, but Arians had said Williams in particular had been disappointing before he was sidelined.

— Finally, a dose of Ironhead. Undrafted rookie safety Ironhead Gallon, besides having the best name on the team, had been impressing Arians. At least up until he hurt his knee in practice.

“He’s bright and tough,” Arians said. “He’s one-legged right now. He is finding a niche for himself.”

Arians said he actually coached the man Gallon is nicknamed after, one-time running back Ironhead Heyward. “It’s a lot smaller Ironhead,” Arians deadpanned.


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After practice: Fitz strikes again

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2017 – 5:34 pm

Ron Wolfley wasn’t around, but Larry Fitzgerald was feisty, and he took it out on everyone else. First there was a tackle of quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich (whom we learned earlier in the day would be calling the plays against the Raiders on Saturday). Then later, Brittan Golden was up.

It started innocently enough. Fitz starting yelling into the stands to get the attention of Golden’s young daughter, who was sitting with Golden’s wife off by themselves, but close enough to hear Fitz. Once Fitz figured she was looking, he went to work, playfully taking down Golden and then rolling on top of him for good measure. When he got up, he made sure to tell Golden’s daughter he was stronger than her daddy. All Golden could do was shake his head and smile.

— For a second straight practice, David Johnson put a hella-jump cut on rookie linebacker Haason Reddick. There’s no better teaching tool for Reddick at his new position than having to deal with Johnson on a daily basis, I suppose.

— Tyrann Mathieu, on one play in the pull-up-don’t-tackle practice, rolled past receiver Jaron Brown on a TD catch at the goal line. The Badger made sure everyone knew it wouldn’t have been a completion in a regular situation. “I would’ve knocked his teeth out,” Mathieu bellowed.

— It wasn’t the best practice for quarterback Drew Stanton. Carson Palmer had a rest day, and Stanton couldn’t seem to connect often enough, especially in the red zone drill. He was intercepted once by Patrick Peterson on a pass to Fitzgerald in the end zone, although it looked like Fitzgerald was looking for a fade and Stanton was looking back shoulder.

— The pass rushers-versus-offensive linemen one-on-one was interesting. I can see why they like rookie Will Holden. His footwork looked solid when he was going, locking up the third-stringers he saw. Robert Nkemdiche looked explosive. He and Frostee Rucker beat guard Evan Boehm on back-to-back tries at one point.

— The Cardinals were done early. Really early. The final horn blew at 3:48 p.m. I’m guessing they were efficient in what they wanted to get accomplished. I’m sure Arians will touch on it tomorrow.


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Keim: Injuries will decide if Logan returns

Posted by Darren Urban on August 7, 2017 – 8:29 am

It didn’t take much to see what rookie running back T.J. Logan could do in the return game in the preseason opener. Every one saw it. It was a bummer for all when Logan dislocated a wrist, which will force surgery.

“I feel like I jinxed us because about halfway through the game I leaned over to (team president) Michael Bidwill and said, ‘We finally have our punt and kick returner,’ ” General Manager Steve Keim said during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “Because the things he showed, his fearless approach to catching the football in traffic, his footspeed, his acceleration, the burst you saw, gave me the feel he could be very explosive in the return game.”

Coach Bruce Arians said the hope is that Logan returns by midseason. But that isn’t just based on Logan’s recovery. It’s also based on other injuries. Logan is headed for injured reserve, and it’ll depend on circumstances for his return, Keim said.

“It’s hard to forecast injuries and how they heal,” Keim said. “There’s a chance potentially to get that thing to heal and get him back at some point in the season. Whether we do or don’t will be determined on some of the other injuries we incur. Hopefully we won’t have many.”

A new NFL rule says teams can bring two players — not just one — back from IR after eight weeks. And teams don’t have to designate who those players are until a week before their return, so there is flexibility.

Among Keim’s other comments:

— He said it’s premature to be talking about Blaine Gabbert overtaking Drew Stanton for No. 2 QB. But Gabbert has shown a quick grasp of the offense, and Keim liked that he didn’t always look to run if his first read wasn’t there.

— On defense, Keim raved about second-round safety Budda Baker, and liked the play of defensive linemen Robert Nkemdiche and Olsen Pierre.


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Hall of Fame game aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2017 – 11:31 pm

It’s late here in Canton — past 2 a.m. — so this is going to be an efficient post, in part because it’s the first of five preseason games and yeah, the preseason. That doesn’t mean things of importance can’t happen. You wish the head coach wasn’t saying “fingers crossed” about an injury to the rookie who was already showing he could be that dynamic return man you had been seeking.

But it was hard not to notice quarterback Blaine Gabbert as the top story of the evening. With all the caveats of preseason/the Cowboys only using three defensive starters, Gabbert looked very good in completing 11-of-14 passes for 185 yards. What does this mean? It means that Gabbert succeeded when, frankly, he should have. Beyond that, we’ll still see.

The last time a new Cardinals QB played so well in the preseason opener? (It just happened to be the last time a Cardinal was going into the Hall of Fame, Aeneas Williams.) Logan Thomas completed 11-of-12 passes against the Texans, for 113 yards and a TD. We all know how that turned out. Now, Gabbert is not Thomas. As much as Gabbert has struggled, his NFL career was still light years better. But it’s a reminder to hold off on grand pronouncements.

— Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Kurt Warner had his party Thursday night, and both Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Wilson made it over there to celebrate post-game.

— Logan really looked good as a return man. For a guy who hadn’t returned punts in college, he impressed.

— Tight ends Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah also made some plays. Momah in the passing game, grabbing three receptions. If he is able to play special teams like he did last year before getting hurt, Momah has a place on this roster.

— Andre Ellington scored on a three-yard run that showed some grit, fighting his way between the tackles. If you recall, Bruce Arians said Ellington had to run tougher. The TD run was a good sign.

— Rookie safety Budda Baker made some plays. Arians praised Haason Reddick too.

— Robert Nkemdiche took a step forward again, playing much of the time in the first half. He busted up a couple of plays. He says being healthy, he feels more like himself. Again, he’s going in the right direction.

— The backups who played the offensive line for Gabbert mostly held up (from left tackle, Wetzel, Kaleb Johnson, Toner, Bergstrom, John.) The second-unit pass rushers who started didn’t generate enough pressure.

— The Cardinals return to practice Saturday (it’s closed to the public). Meanwhile, I’ll be here in Canton, covering Warner’s induction. Look for my big Warner-years-in-Arizona story tomorrow (today, here in the Eastern time zone).

UPDATE: Some are wondering why I didn’t bring up the missed field goals, and it’s simple. Phil Dawson didn’t kick. The punters, Richie Leone and Matt Wile, kicked, each missed a field goal, but the punter will only be kicking when it counts if Dawson goes down in a game. That’s unlikely to happen.

 


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