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Blogs

How those draft choices could fit

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2013 – 9:46 am

It’s still way early. Bruce Arians won’t even commit to starting positions — which isn’t a surprise — and training camp will sort through players much better than any of this summer stuff. Players can’t even hit right now, and so this isn’t really football, as the coaches will be quick to point out. But this team will be much different than the past few years, when rookies had a climb akin to Mount Everest to jump into the fray from the outset. Arians wants to use young players and this team wants to, philosophically, grow from a younger base.

That said, what exactly can be expected from this draft class sitting here in June (and with minicamp starting tomorrow, with the long anticipated Fan Fest Tuesday night)? We know, barring a shocking development, first-round pick Jonathan Cooper is going to be the starter at left guard. The only other player that seems to be a lock for significant playing time at this juncture is third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu, and part of that has to do with his skill set and the existing roster situation at safety. Mathieu is getting his reps, and last week spent more time on the main field with the veterans (whereas he had been starting out on the second field with the inexperienced players — and yes, I’m trying really hard not to call it the JV field.)

The only other draft pick who has been working mostly on the main field has been second-round linebacker Kevin Minter. Minter is an interesting guy to keep an eye on. Second-round picks are supposed to step in right away and do something. But the Cards, who signed Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby and still have Daryl Washington, all of a sudden have a ton of options at inside linebacker (and that doesn’t even include veteran Reggie Walker, who has found himself on the second field this summer looking very much out of place.) Inside linebacker will be one of those places where the spotlight will shine in camp, because they all can’t play.

The rest of the draft class is working on the second field and have a steeper hill to climb. That said, I can totally see a scenario where outside linebacker Alex Okafor, guard Earl Watford and running back Stepfan Taylor find their way into the mix. Arians made it clear he wanted his depth to be such that the Cards didn’t have to rely on a rookie, and that gives those three some room to breath (and since Taylor has basically been absent so far because of school, he has some ground to make up.) It’s easy to see Watford’s time being a year away. Okafor could step in, but with Matt Shaughnessy pretty clearly playing OLB and not DE, along with Sam Acho, O’Brien Schofield and Lorenzo Alexander at OLB, Okafor has to get through some guys on the depth chart.

The last three draft picks have a harder row to hoe. Wide receiver Ryan Swope needs to get back on the field first. Running back Andre Ellington has a lot of competition. Tight end D.C. Jefferson could make inroads given the lineup at his position, but he remains fairly raw. The biggest thing in all their favor? Arians seems willing to live with growing live with inexperience, which wasn’t there before.

– Apropos of nothing, the Jets hired former Cardinals GM Rod Graves as their senior director of football administration under their GM John Idzik. The move was long anticipated. Graves and Idzik have known each other from their youth when they both worked as Eagles ballboys as their fathers worked for Philly. Idzik worked under Graves with the Cardinals in the Denny Green era as the Cards’ cap guy.

RookieBlogTyrann


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Catch-up time for Keim for draft

Posted by Darren Urban on March 28, 2013 – 11:23 am

Last week at the owners meetings, GM Steve Keim was anxious to get them over with. He was going straight to the airport after the meetings closed on Wednesday and flying right to Georgia’s pro day among other destinations. Free agency was the topic still but that was about to morph. Soon. “We will jump into the draft mode because I feel I am significantly behind,” Keim said.

At his core, Keim is about evaluating talent. There are different ways someone rises to the job of general manager, and Keim got there from years of scouting and doing a good job of it. It makes sense he wouldn’t want to turn back on his roots. What will eventually be interesting is whether Keim’s influence on the Top 120 board for the draft changes much than it was when he was VP of player personnel under GM Rod Graves. The point of the Cardinals having draft meetings is for scouts and coaches — and further up the food chain, Keim — to discuss and debate what they think of each player and then come up with a final grade. That’s the number the group will use to set that board and in the end, draft their players.

Mocks will come out constantly in April. The latest Todd McShay version echoes the narrative the Cardinals’ direction has taken overall, which is that the team seems unlikely to take a quarterback first (and in McShay’s picks, Geno Smith — the one guy who seems to make sense as a top 10 pick, is already chosen by No. 7). McShay has Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson going in the first round to the Cards and then the team taking N.C. State QB Mike Glennon in the second round. Good discussion fodder. Beyond that, who knows.

Keim, though, forges ahead in his work. Nothing is set in stone right now. For a guy who built an NFL career through the draft, it makes sense that he’ll want his team built that way too. I still think a QB is going to be taken somewhere, but that comes with a caveat — I truly believe Keim would be willing to pass on a QB if the right one isn’t there. The Drew Stanton-in-2013 thing isn’t a lock — too much can still happen — but it’s not a smokescreen either. In the meantime, the Cards will look carefully at offensive linemen in a draft filled with them, try to get a key cog in the first round regardless of position, and go from there.

And while Keim might have felt behind last week, something tells me he will catch up very quickly.


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The Whisenhunt/Graves era ends

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2012 – 1:16 pm

The news will move quickly now, on to potential candidates for both head coach and general manager, and the new offensive assistants that will take the places of the ones let go. On the NFL’s “Black Monday,” after weeks of speculation that changes were probably going to happen, the actual move has a relatively short shelf life.

The Cardinals needed to make some changes. That’s what happens after struggles and non-playoff years and extended losing streaks. But make no mistake, both Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves deserve to get credit for where this team was a few years ago, during division titles and a run to a Super Bowl. They had help from their players and coaches, yes, but they were part of the equation.

So many want to say that Kurt Warner was the reason this team scaled its heights, and Kurt for sure deserves that. But Warner was also in Arizona for two years before Whisenhunt arrived and never took the team anywhere close to where it went after Whiz’s arrival. Warner got benched by Denny Green, was booed off the field at UoP. Warner helped Whiz but Whiz helped Warner, got him to change the way he handled the pocket. It made a difference. Whiz, and Graves, collected a team that could make steps forward. Yes, Whiz inherited good players but he got those good players winning in a way they never had before.

And Graves was there helping collect those players even before Whisenhunt arrived.

There will be criticisms of both, and that’s fair. Whisenhunt said it yesterday after the Niners’ loss — “Bottom line, we didn’t win enough games.” There is plenty of blame to go around when you lose nine in a row, or six in a row last year, or seven in a row in 2010, but it’s never completely black and white. In a lot of ways, this comes down to the quarterback. There is little question the position could have — and probably should have — been handled differently after Warner retired. But without a top-notch quarterback, winning in the NFL is a difficult chore, regardless of anything else going on. Yes, the offensive line has been under-addressed, but I just don’t believe that it’s something consistent QB play couldn’t have overcome.

So the Cards move on. Both defensive coordinator Ray Horton and VP of player personnel Steve Keim are expected to be candidates for the coach and GM jobs, respectively.  Adam Schefter reported the Cards have also put in for permission to talk to Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. We’ll see what president Michael Bidwill has to say later this afternoon. (The last time the Cards were searching for a head coach, Bidwill let everyone know who was on the list of candidates.)

Change can be good, but change isn’t what you want to have to happen. Stability works in the NFL. The Cards were put in a spot where change was necessary, but the process starts all over again now.

FinalWhizBlogUSE


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Above Fitzgerald’s pay grade

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2012 – 10:01 am

Larry Fitzgerald has done en excellent job managing whatever frustrations he might have during this season with the Cardinals. Anyone who has been around him the last few years can’t be surprised.

“I keep everything in perspective,” Fitzgerald said. “At the end of the day, I’m living a dream. I have an NFL jersey on, an Arizona Cardinals jersey, only 1,500 men around the world that can say they are playing in this league. That’s an exclusive group. It doesn’t feel good to fall short of your goals but we still have one more game against a really good opponent. It’ll be a test of our resolve.”

As usual, Fitz was asked team-wide-type questions about change and, specifically, about whether he wanted to see quarterback Kevin Kolb return. Fitzgerald handled them with his usual grace.

“You’re asking me questions above my pay grade,” Fitzgerald said. “I saw (president) Michael Bidwill, I saw (VP of player personnel) Steve Keim, I saw (general manager) Rod Graves, those guys might have some answers for you. Those are the decision-makers. I’m just a number.”

Fitz mentioned that he has a personal relationship with all his teammates and he’d like to bring them all back. He clearly didn’t want to get into such a discussion.

“I don’t like to play the GM game,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s not my role.”

(I know there are thoughts out there that Fitzgerald has some kind of sway when it comes to some decisions, but that is overblown. The Cards aren’t making decisions based on Fitz’s desires. Nor should they.)

One thing Fitz does understand — as do most players — is that change comes every offseason, and when a team struggles as much as the Cardinals have, it usually leads to more change than usual.

“Unfortunately that’s the nature of our business,” Fitzgerald said. “(There is) 30 percent turnover every year across the league, from draft to trades to cuts to guys retiring. It’s part of our game. I look around the locker room and see Adrian (Wilson) and Darnell (Dockett) and that’s about it being around as long as I have been.”

There was a funny moment as someone tried to delve into Fitzgerald’s thoughts about a 5-10 record. After Fitz said his role wasn’t as GM, it was asked, “But you want to win?”

“I definitely want to win, no question,” Fitzgerald said, which drew the response of “But that hasn’t been happening.”

Fitzgerald looked up and couldn’t help but smile. It was like a grooved fastball for Fitzgerald to hammer out of the park. “That hasn’t been happening. You’re right. Did you have an epiphany today with that?”

Fitzgerald chuckled as he delivered the line, and so did everyone in the group.

FitzBlogUseUSE


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Tradeless, and the tackles – UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on November 1, 2012 – 2:18 pm

The trading deadline came and went Thursday and the Cardinals — as well as most of the NFL — did not make a deal. Many were wondering about the Cards getting an offensive lineman in a trade.

UPDATE: General manager Rod Graves said in the end, while there were the normal amount of conversations with teams about trades over the past two weeks, “there was not enough interest to consummate a trade.”

“So many different factors come into play,” Graves said, noting medical history of the player, age, contractual situations and the coaches’ feelings on a particular player being able to fit in to the locker room and the system. “You don’t have a plug-and-play situation” in the NFL, Graves said.

– After practice, coach Ken Whisenhunt was talking about the two reserve tackles already on the roster: rookie Nate Potter and veteran Pat McQuistan (who can also play guard.)

Whiz said the Cards are feeling “a lot more comfortable” with McQuistan, who has been active on game days and serves as an important backup swingman now that Adam Snyder has been out and Rich Ohrnberger has been in the starting lineup. You still get the sense McQuistan is there for a reserve/just-in-case role. It might be different for Potter. Whisenhunt played question-and-answer with himself about the rookie today. Does Potter’s progress “mean he is ready to play in a regular-season game? At some point, you have to look at it,” Whisenhunt said, noting that Potter’s practices have been good and the rookie playing “is something we’re looking at doing at some point.”

Potter can play both right and left tackle, so I don’t know which side at which he’d get his first crack. Nor does that mean Potter is on the verge of playing, say, this weekend, necessarily. But he’s on the radar and clearly, the coaches have been evaluating him. Josh Weinfuss will have more on Potter — and rookie running mate Senio Kelemete — later this afternoon on azcardinals.com.


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Next up for a contract

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2012 – 12:32 pm

With the news Daryl Washington got a contract extension, it changes the list of who might be next up for the Cardinals on the contract front. The obvious and probable choice is running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season and is a player whom general manager Rod Graves has already said is a target for a new deal. We’ll see if that comes to fruition, but the way the NFL is these days, a back who fills the Hyphen’s role is important to have.

Beyond that? The Cardinals have done a good job managing contracts at this point. Extensions are usually only there for younger players who you don’t want to hit the open market. Older veterans who play a role usually don’t get anything done until after the season and even then, after free agency arrives — if the team is going to bring them back at all. So some of the guys scheduled to be free agents after the season — defensive linemen Vonnie Holliday and Nick Eason, tight end Todd Heap, safety James Sanders, linebacker Quentin Groves, tackle D’Anthony Batiste — probably aren’t going to get into talks until later.

One intriguing name is linebacker Paris Lenon, but he likely falls into the previous category, even as he is about to start for a third straight season and was named captain again. Lenon said he thinks he has more in the tank for beyond 2012, but we’ll see if the Cards’ front office has thoughts that dovetail with that. Beyond Lenon, there are younger guys like linebacker Reggie Walker and defensive backs Rashad Johnson and Michael Adams. I don’t see any of them getting new deals in season.

Other than that, the Cards are in good shape through 2013 in terms of key guys under contract. I know some are asking about Patrick Peterson, but he’s already under contract through 2015. He’ll have to be locked up before then, but there is plenty of time for that.


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Cards give Washington new six-year deal

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2012 – 9:42 am

When training camp opened, general manager Rod Graves mentioned that the team was planning on opening contract extension talks with linebacker Daryl Washington, who still had two years left on his rookie deal. It made sense, locking up a potential future star. Washington liked the idea.

“It’s definitely been on my mind, that I want an extension and be with this team for a long period of time,” Washington said in Flagstaff. “That stuff will work itself out though.”

Thursday, it did, with Washington agreeing to a new six-year contract that will keep him part of the Cardinals through 2017. Financial terms have yet to be put out there – the Cards, as usual, are not announcing them – but you figure Washington is in a good place now. And he’s one of the young anchors, along with Calais Campbell and eventually Patrick Peterson that will help transition the defense from veterans like Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett.

“Two things that successful teams do consistently is build through the draft and keep their core players,” Graves said. “Daryl has certainly lived up to the potential we all saw in him coming out of TCU in 2010 and he has established himself as one of the top young defensive players in the NFL. I know he feels, like we do, that his best football is still ahead of him and we’re thrilled that this deal gives him the opportunity to achieve that with the Cardinals.”

Washington already figures to be one of the breakout players this season. Now he’s got the contract to go with it.


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Missing rookies no longer an issue

Posted by Darren Urban on June 15, 2012 – 10:45 am

Once, the end of offseason work for the Cardinals wasn’t just a beginning but a much bigger deal, specifically when coach Dennis Green used it in his first season as a time to announce his starting lineup for the season. (That was a crazy time. It really was.)

Now, coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasizes competition and ongoing competition. Nothing up for grabs was going to be settled in a month’s worth of work in May and June. But there was one thing settled that is a significant step for the Cardinals — every draft pick was signed before the work ended. Michael Floyd and Jamell Fleming (below) signed on the dotted line, and just like that, a headache that had shrunk in recent years (yet still existed) was gone.

It’ll be league-wide, and it’s thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement. No longer will players be holding out. I’ve never thought, if a player missed a day or two of camp, it was a huge deal, but looking at the last 10 years and the number of picks that have missed at least some time in camp, this is a welcome change:

– 2011 Patrick Peterson, missed 1 day

– 2010 Dan Williams, 3 days

– 2009 Beanie Wells, 3 days

– 2008 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 2 days

– 2007 Levi Brown, 6 days

– 2006 Matt Leinart, 15 days

– 2005 Antrel Rolle, 8 days

– 2004 Larry Fitzgerald, 1 day

– 2003 Calvin Pace, 3 days; Bryant Johnson 4 days

– 2002 Wendell Bryant, all of training camp and two weeks of the regular season

“Knowing the first day of training camp you will have everyone there is a big deal,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “When they miss those first couple of days, it seems like they are always playing catch-up. It’s good we had all our guys here. It’ll be good to have everyone there from Day One. It’s great that our organization, (president) Michael (Bidwill) and (general manager) Rod (Graves), have been so proactive.”


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On the way out the draft door, some cleanup

Posted by Darren Urban on April 28, 2012 – 5:02 pm

OK. The three-day wait-and-write of the NFL draft is finally over. Before I scoot out the door, some quick hit thoughts/nuggets to tide you over until Monday (or until the possible undrafted rookies start getting leaked):

– The Cards didn’t take a linebacker or defensive lineman in the draft. That would seem to make it much more likely for veteran linebacker Clark Haggans and/or defensive end Vonnie Holliday to come back. General manager Rod Graves acknowledged that could still happen and made clear veteran free agents will not be ignored at this point.

“There are still opportunities out there for veterans (to be signed),” Graves said.

– Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean splashy veterans, not that there are any to sign. Vets signing now are going to be minimum, one-year deal guys. And I think the Haggans/Holliday thing makes the most sense.

– With 69 players on the roster, including the unsigned/tagged Calais Campbell, the Cards need to fill 21 roster spots. The vast majority will be undrafted rookies, but whatever that total is when it is finally announced Monday (and it should be Monday, but the list will have to be complete before they do let it out) will let you know if they are keeping spots open for vets.

– The offensive line got their influx of talent on the final day. I don’t know if Bobby Massie will be the right tackle starter — we all know how things go for rookies with this staff — but Levi Brown did start as a rookie at right tackle. I wouldn’t rule it out.

– Not taking a linebacker means a lot for Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield, and in a good way. “I think they were the two high totals in sacks for our team at that position and when you have young guys doing that, you feel good,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, who added that Brandon Williams, whom the Cards picked up late last year, as flashed some potential.

– The basically unknown Justin Bethel (you know, aside from his leaping skills) is versatile. Bethel (pictured below at the combine) said he didn’t know what position he’d play, but the Cards listed him at safety. Like Richard Marshall, I think DC Ray Horton likes guys who are able to do both anyway. As Horton mentioned, the Cards play teams like the Packers and Patriots, teams that send an armada of pass catchers out most plays. The Cards need quality DBs.

– Interesting to hear about the scouting process. Horton said he specifically wrote down during the combine interview of new CB Jamell Fleming “very smart player.” With new guard Senio Kelemete, a two-time team captain, Whisenhunt noted how he was an “intriguing interview what he’s gone through in his personal life and how he stayed focused on school and football.”

Bottom line: They keep talking about how football intelligence and character matter. Sometimes talent trumps that, but it does factor in and does matter.

– I don’t know what will happen at QB. Not sure why everyone kept banging the Kellen Moore drum — every team in the league passed on him multiple times. He won, yes. But so did Matt Leinart. It doesn’t automatically mean anything on this level, and it certainly doesn’t make it any easier to see in the pocket when you are barely 6-foot. Maybe he shocks the world. The odds say he probably won’t. You take the kid — Lindley, in this case — who has tools in which you hope you can mold.

OK, that’s enough. Time to go home. Until next draft …


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After the Floyd pick, and other notes

Posted by Darren Urban on April 26, 2012 – 9:06 pm

If I am Andre Roberts, there isn’t anything else I can really say but bring it on. And that’s what the Cards’ receiver did — in the right way — by embracing the Michael Floyd draft choice by calling it “a great pick.” He said on XTRA 910 that the Cards needed another receiver because “it is a passing league.” How he deals with this — or how Early Doucet does — will be one of the stories of camp. Floyd is a No. 1 draft pick. He’s not a third-rounder like Roberts and Doucet once were. He’s going to have to play. He’s supposed to play. In some ways, this feels like the wide receiving corps has come full-circle (at least potentially) since the 2008 draft, when Doucet was taken and joined Fitz, Boldin and Breaston.

But as Whiz said, “Michael Floyd hasn’t done one thing in this league as a player.” He must prove himself. And we all know how Whisenhunt prefers to deal with rookies, at least at first.

– The Cards will get a tackle at some point. Maybe even the next pick, in the third round. “I think there will be opportunities there,” general manager Rod Graves said. “We certainly hope so. We are not going to do it at the expense of other magnificent players.” In other words, we need to stick to the draft board.

– In the feedback I have gotten, some aren’t thrilled the Cards passed on T Riley Reiff to take Floyd. Here’s my analogy: It was the flip-side of Levi Brown/Adrian Peterson of 2007. You have to take the player you feel is the best, and go from there. That’s what the Cards did. You can’t take a guy for need if the other guy is rated so much better. You just can’t.

Is Fitz happy the Cards have Floyd? Yes. Did they take him for Fitz? I absolutely don’t believe that. I think they thought that much of him as a player. That the team’s star likes him is a bonus.

– I will be honest: I thought the Cards were going to end up trading. I was wrong.

– Never say never, but don’t be waiting for a second-round pick. They just don’t have the ammunition to get into the second round. “We’re not going to sit idle,” Graves said. “As it stands right now, we don’t have a second-round pick so there is not a lot we can do but wait. We will see what happens.”

– Floyd, on the plan to start from Day One: “That’s my goal. I’m going to keep working hard. That’s in my arsenal, that’s in my head that I’m a workaholic. I’m going to work hard to get in that position.”

– Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly couldn’t stop raving about Floyd’s work ethic, how he grew from his off-field problems, and how he graduated with a degree in sociology in 3 1/2 years. “You could consider Mike a raw receiver in a sense that he can get better in the technical elements of route running and things of that nature,” Kelly said. “But he is certainly a guy that attacks the football and attacks defenders. And blocking, he is an outstanding blocker.”


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