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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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Wednesday before the Hall of Fame game

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

Well, here we are. A game is about to be played and we just got to August, and there is still about a month’s worth of training camp to go. Still, once the games arrive, things get into more of a rhythm, work for a week and then a game, and so on. The players like it when we get to that point (and so do writers.) This game is a little different, of course. There is only so much you will get out of your main guys in any preseason game and of course, in this one, Bruce Arians already said there will be no starters. All about the young guys. Makes sense. The starters barely play in the first preseason game normally — and that game is still more than a week away.

This is about the young guys, as Arians said. Seeing what happens when the lights go on. Even last weekend, at the Red-White practice, which was still just a practice but had 25,000 in the stands, one particular rookie struggled with things he hadn’t previously struggled with. That’s the power of “under the lights” that coaches always talk about. There have been plenty of players who have looked good in the offseason and in camp and then looked different in preseason games. That won’t get you on a roster.

— It’s early but we’re already talking about injuries. Cornerback less so, especially with the signing of Tramon Williams and the return of Justin Bethel to practice. But inside linebacker will be interesting. Karlos Dansby was never going to play, but he’s nursing a sore knee. Gabe Martin is out for a while with an Achilles problem. Newly-signed Philip Wheeler is sidelined with some sort of leg issue, which shouldn’t be long, Arians said, but it will almost certainly keep him out Thursday. Of course, Deone Bucannon is still on PUP.

Rookie Haason Reddick will play (one starter who will be out there; I’m guessing there might be a couple of others), but Arians doesn’t want it to be long. One guy to watch is Scooby Wright. Wright has had a solid offseason of work. He’s good on special teams. If he can make a push in these preseason games, he’s got a good chance to make the roster.

— There’s a lot of talk about Blaine Gabbert and his start Thursday, but there will also be a half of play for undrafted rookie QB Trevor Knight. Knight is a major longshot, but he’ll have a couple opportunities. Thus far, Knight in camp has been the Knight people know from college — good athlete, can run, inconsistent with accuracy.

— This will become a growing storyline as we go, but while the starting offensive line is all but set, those backup spots on the 53-man roster are not. There are a lot of guys who are fighting for a place. I want to see Cole Toner, who is basically the backup center, in a game situation. Rookie guard Dorian Johnson, and rookie tackle Will Holden are third string trying to move up the depth chart. Unknowns like tackle Givens Price and guard Kaleb Johnson, both current second-stringers, who want to provide the upset by sticking around.

— Of course, all the draft class tends to get your attention. I do like what I have seen from safety Budda Baker. It’s tough, because of his stature, you’re always going to compare him to Tyrann Mathieu and Mathieu is having a great camp as we go. But you can see why the front office was so enamored by Baker.

— Don’t know how much Robert Nkemdiche we will see, but I am anxious to watch him against another team. He’s looked very good thus far.

— I will be staying in Canton for the Kurt Warner Hall of Fame induction. I have a big Warner story posting Friday morning which I think you’ll enjoy, and all our Warner coverage — including a series of videos from our sit-down interview — can be found by clicking here on our Warner Hall of Fame page.


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After practice: Penny bashes at the Red-White

Posted by Darren Urban on July 29, 2017 – 6:22 pm

Famous last words.

Mike Jurecki asked about cornerback Ronald Zamort in Saturday’s lunchtime presser. And if he hadn’t, someone would have. Bruce Arians’ reaction was swift.

“You guys keep asking about individual guys and they keep getting hurt,” Arians deadpanned. “You and Josh (Weinfuss) are 2-for-2. If you get this one, you’re done.” (There had been previous questions about Aaron Dobson and the lack of soft tissue injuries at that point.)

Arians chuckled.

He wasn’t chuckling a couple hours later, when Zamort indeed went down. At first it was scary — Zamort wasn’t moving — but he eventually got up. We don’t know what the injury was — an update likely won’t come until Monday — but we’ll see what kind of questions Arians will answer going forward. UPDATE: Kent Somers reports that Zamort tore an ACL.

As for the rest of the Red-White:

— Elijhaa Penny is trying to find a spot on the roster. The big second-year running back wanted to clarify some of the reports about his weight — he said he weighed 250 last season, and is now down to 236, feeling lighter on his feet — and he spends most reps looking for contact as he runs downfield.

“I want to be the linebacker on offense,” Penny said. “I want to deliver the hit instead of taking the hit. The main point is I want the offense to get the same mentality that the defense has. Hit them instead of them hitting us.”

He is in a fight with a crowded backfield. “Every day, I have to treat it almost like it’s game day.”

— It was interesting to watch the final three plays on the full-contact goalline scrimmage. Three straight carries for rookie T.J. Logan. Logan and fellow rookie linebacker Haason Reddick collided something fierce in the hole on the first two. On all three, Logan’s helmet popped off.

— Among the notable plays in 11-on-11 work: Patrick Peterson’s tip-drill interception in the end zone, tipped by Tyvon Branch; Jaron Brown hauling in a tipped pass that had been defended well by Zamort; Larry Fitzgerald’s sliding TD catch on the first play of red zone work from the 11-yard line; Krishawn Hogan’s juggling catch on the sideline; and Budda Baker’s nice from-behind pass breakup on Jeremy Ross.

— LB Karlos Dansby sat out the practice with a sore knee.

— The defenses and offenses essentially split success at the end-of-practice scrimmage plays.

— Robert Nkemdiche was a disruptive force much of the time again. The second-unit offensive line has a hard time blocking him.

— The crowd ended up being 25,000.

— The Cardinals are off tomorrow and don’t have another open practice to the public until Aug. 8. They play in Canton Thursday.


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After practice: Peterson picks and some Smoke

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2017 – 5:59 pm

The day off seemed to do good things for some guys on the practice field Thursday (and it didn’t hurt that the humidity, which was a killer Tuesday, was way better.) Some key guys looked good, not the least of whom being wide receiver John Brown. Brown looks past his health concerns. He is blazing when he runs around out there. One play in particular stood out to me Thursday, a 31-yard route to the pylon in which Brown went up and made the catch of a Drew Stanton throw with his hands, Justin Bethel right there in tight coverage. (There’s a picture of it below.) A healthy and fast Smokey Brown is a good Smokey Brown.

— Patrick Peterson made a couple of picks, once in a one-on-one drill with Brown (which is so hard for a defensive back) and again in 7-on-7 and in both cases it looked like Peterson was the one running the route.

— Robert Nkemdiche blew up a running play in 11-on-11 and looked explosive in one-on-one drills. It’s one day — and yes, in the video, he’s going against raw rookie Dorian Johnson — but the defensive tackle is going in the right direction. Nkemdiche tossed the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Johnson to the ground during one matchup.

— WR Aaron Dobson pulled up after a play with some sort of left leg issue and he was not happy. It’ll be interesting to see if it is anything serious.

— RB Chris Johnson joined Carson Palmer with a day off. Tackle Jared Veldheer also wasn’t out there.

— There was a play in which the pass protection started to break down and quarterback Blaine Gabbert basically had to sling a pass without any ability to step into the throw — and it was a laser to a wide-open Chad Williams 18 yards down the field. Gabbert unquestionably has arm strength, that’s for sure.

— If there is any question about Larry Fitzgerald’s mindset, I leave you with this: Fitz makes a catch coming across the field. Wide open. He leans a bit forward and ends up falling to the ground. Fitz was angry. “Stay on your damn feet!” he barked at himself.


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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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