The Cardinals added Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor in the fifth round Saturday. It wasn’t a surprise — the Cards figured to add a back. It is interesting who they picked though. Taylor, Stanford’s all-time leading rusher, has a reputation for being durable. The Cards’ top two backs, Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams, cannot make that claim. Neither one has played full season the past two years. Williams has only played four games in two years. Mendenhall has to prove he can be effective full time again.
None of this means Taylor is about to walk into the starting lineup. He is a fifth-round pick. Now, that tends to mean less at running back these days. Plenty of third-day picks turn into rookie running back starters. Taylor is a three-down back, a guy who is a willing and able pass blocker. Bruce Arians has made it clear that’s something he wants in the backfield. Taylor is a between-the-tackles runner who doesn’t have great speed, but one scouting report mentioned he is more football player than athlete. In this case, that’s what the Cards want.
“It’s a perfect situation for me,” Taylor said.
I mentioned to Williams yesterday the Cards were likely to take a back (especially after letting LaRod Stephens-Howling leave). He shrugged his shoulders. He knows that’s how the league works. If he performs — and again, he believes he is more focused and better off than his first two years — he’ll win his time. If not, the Cards have an alternative. And with Mendenhall on a one-year contract anyway, the running back group still doesn’t have a ton of long-term clarity yet.
UPDATE: And the Cardinals added Clemson running back Andre Ellington in the sixth. Ellington is smaller (5-9, 199) but he can pass block too and can return kicks. It will make for a very, very interesting time at running back going into training camp.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor
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Ryan Williams smiled. He had just met Jonathan Cooper for the first time and as he sat on his stool in front of his locker, he couldn’t help but grin.
“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about,” Williams said.
Cooper’s introduction came Friday, the day after the Cardinals made the North Carolina guard their No. 1 pick. General Manager Steve Keim tweaked him by wearing a North Carolina State shirt, and the Cards clearly found a player who was articulate, smart and potential backbone in their community efforts.
Mostly, though, the 6-foot-2, 312-pounder looked the part of a massive blocker. No wonder Williams — a running back on a team that struggled to run the ball last season — was happy. Williams didn’t even hear the Michael Irvin-on-NFL Network comparison to Hall of Fame guard Larry Allen, a notion Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wouldn’t dismiss.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Arians said. “Larry, early in his career, was an unbelievably athletic pulling guard that when he got there, good things happened for the offense. This kid has that.”
Cooper didn’t hear about that comparison until today. Nor one to another Hall of Fame guard, Randall McDaniel, who many know around these parts after he grew up in Avondale and went to Arizona State, or multi-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca, who played for Arians in Pittsburgh during his glory days and later finished his career as a Cardinal.
“Honestly, it makes me a little nervous,” Cooper said. “It’s high expectations and kind of a little bit of pressure, but I also put just as much pressure on myself, and it makes me want to get to work immediately. There are some guys who kind of bask in that hype, but I can’t allow myself to do that. It’s now time for me to prove to myself that I’ve earned that and I deserve that high praise.”
Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who is the de facto offensive line coach, didn’t want to hype Cooper too much although he allowed that he could see similarities to Faneca. The difference, Goodwin said, is that Cooper hasn’t proved a thing yet. He’ll get a chance, though, Goodwin allowed. “When you are picked that high, you are picked that high for a reason,” Goodwin said. Cooper will play but “what that spot is, I couldn’t tell you right now.”
Cooper promised Darnell Dockett when the two met Friday that he was ready to go to work. Williams was long gone by the time Cooper had his press conference, but one of Cooper’s comments would have made Williams grin all over again.
“You want to be able to run that ball and show that your offensive line is good enough to impose your will on the defense,” Cooper said. “So, it would mean a lot to me to establish a running a game here in Arizona. It’s rare that you find teams that can run the ball frequently, and if we can do that, you can be a special team in the NFL.”
I’m guessing that is exactly what Williams was talking about.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Harold Goodwin, Jonathan Cooper, Ryan Williams
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The NFL released the college players who have decided to take the league up on their invitation to attend the draft in New York City in a couple of weeks. It’s always a dicey proposition for some of the players. It’s safe to say Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel and Sharrif Floyd will be top 12 picks, for instance. Their wait is going to be relatively short. But there are many who won’t attend, some because they’d rather be with family (That’s what Larry Fitzgerald chose a decade ago) and some because they’d rather not take the chance to be sitting around into the second round, the cameras capturing their disappointment. (That could be a reason USC QB Matt Barkley took a pass.) No one will ever forget Aaron Rodgers, potential No. 1 pick, waiting all the way until pick No. 24 (in a days of 15-minutes for each first-round selection) and getting more and more frustrated.
In the end, 23 players decided to go to New York. Are they all first-round locks? Hardly. But there is something to be said about the experience regardless. That’s what Ryan Williams thinks. When he came out in 2011, he was invited to the draft. He jumped at the chance. He acknowledges now that even if he hoped to go in the first round, had he been realistic his final season at Virginia Tech — with injuries and sharing the backfield with two other players — probably cost him any chance going in. That didn’t make waiting around Thursday night without being called any easier.
“I wasn’t thinking about what anybody was saying about me sitting back there,” Williams recalled. “I only played a year-and-a-half of football (in college). I couldn’t complain about anything that happened that day.”
That’s with time as perspective, of course. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t upset at the time, and at first he didn’t really want to return to Radio City Music Hall the next night as the second round got under way. A father figure for Williams (Williams’ father is in prison) wouldn’t let Williams stay away. “Make sure you walk that stage,” he told Williams, “because you’ll remember it the rest of your life.”
So too would the 26 people Williams had with him, from his mother — whom Williams gives all credit to getting him to where he is — to family to his friends. “I wanted not only myself but the people I am closest with to be able to experience something like that,” Williams said. “To this day, my boys and I still talk about it. I kind of did it for myself and for everybody.”
It didn’t hurt that Williams is from upstate New York and wanted to be able to go home. He was picked 38th overall to the Cardinals, and still remembers meeting NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on stage, taking pictures, and then having the whole group meet him in that moment. So now, asked if he’d encourage a college kid coming out to go to New York if invited — even if the first round was a question mark — Williams doesn’t hesitate. “Heck yeah.”
“If you’re invited, go,” Williams said. “It’s something you’ll remember. Why not? … That meant a lot to me. Hey, everyone is different. If it doesn’t mean as much, or if staying home with the family means more, I get it. But if it’s a dream come true (to be on that stage), go.”
Tags: draft, Ryan Williams
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The NFC coaches breakfast was this morning — bright and early at 7:15 a.m. — here at the NFL coaches meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. That meant an hour hanging out with Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. There will be plenty more in-depth of what was said, but for now a few of the main highlights — the biggest being that the reality of Drew Stanton being the 2013 starting quarterback feels very close right now.
– Asked if this was a tough year to be going into the draft needing a quarterback, Arians didn’t blink. “I don’t feel we need one.”
– Along those lines (and again, I will have an article up later today on the subject) Arians said he wasn’t worried about the quarterback situation. He doesn’t know enough about Brian Hoyer, Ryan Lindley or John Skelton yet, because he hasn’t had a chance to go over video and ask “why” on various plays. He obviously has done that with Stanton. But he said he thinks he can win with Stanton, and he said he won’t have a problem if things stay status quo starting Stanton this season.
– Yes, such QB talk is possiblely a smokescreen. Or just hard driving optimism so players (and fans) don’t want to write off 2013. But Arians sure sounded genuine.
– He wants to name a starting QB before training camp. That’s best for the team, he said, making sure the locker room knows who “The Man” will be.
– It hurt Kevin Kolb that Arians couldn’t sit down with him and talk about his play last season and again, figuring out the whys and why nots of decision-making. Without that information, moving on (given the contract) was the best decision, Arians said.
– He talked a little bit about the possibility of adding free agent Josh Cribbs, assuming at some point Cribbs is healthy and the Cards still have interest by that point. He wouldn’t mind having both Cribbs and Patrick Peterson back for a kick or two. “It’d be a nice addition if it works out.” One thing Cribbs won’t do is be QB in a wildcat formation. “I’m not a wildcat dude,” Arians said.
– Not only will Lorenzo Alexander play outside linebacker, new defensive end Matt Shaughnessy can also stand up and play OLB. That could make for an interesting pass rush situation.
– Asked about the tight ends, he was blunt: “I’m not a fullback guy, never have been.” Not great news for Anthony Sherman, at least on the surface. Arians wants two tight ends when one can maneuver into the backfield, making it much harder for the defense to know what’s coming. Having a fullback restricts that flexibility, he said.
– He said the speed at receiver with Fitz, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd is “plenty fast enough.” He added with a chuckle, wide receiver “is not the position I’ve worried about.”
– Rehab has gone well for center Lyle Sendlein, tackle Levi Brown and running back Ryan Williams, but Arians isn’t sure how much they will do in the early on-field work.
– It’ll be wait-and-see where second-year offensive linemen Nate Potter and Bobby Massie play, either guard or tackle. But Arians is confident they each can do both.
– Levi Brown could play right tackle. But Arians right now sure sounds like a guy expecting to have Brown at left tackle.
– The coaching staff are still trying to figure out what position Justin Bethel will play, cornerback or safety. They will pick one and let him learn it well.
– The Cardinals color Kangol was on display again Wednesday morning. Could we see something similar on Sundays? Arians is talking with with New Era and the NFL on that subject. “I’m not getting fined,” Arians joked. “There’s got to be more than baseball caps, know what I mean?”
Tags: Andre Roberts, Anthony Sherman, Bobby Massie, Bruce Arians, Drew Stanton, Josh Cribbs, Justin Bethel, Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Lorenzo Alexander, Lyle Sendlein, Matt Shaughnessy, Michael Floyd, Nate Potter, quarterbacks, Ryan Williams
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The first day was quiet. Today, not so much.
In come a host of free agents (many necessary after the recent purge of veterans): a quarterback in Drew Stanton, a running back in Rashard Mendenhall, a linebacker/special teamer in Lorenzo Alexander, a cornerback in Jerraud Powers and a safety in Yeremiah Bell. The Bell thing came out of left field a bit, but so too did the release of safety Kerry Rhodes. Dropping both starting safeties in less than a week’s time.
A quick note on Rhodes. The team saves $6 million in both cap space and cash outlay by letting him go in 2013. There was no way that was ever going to stand. The plan late in the season last year was to extend Rhodes’ deal and lower that 2013 number. I don’t know what happened exactly, but I still think there was talk in that regard even after the regime change. Rhodes hits an open market with a secondary glut, and he’ll be fighting Charles Woodson, Ed Reed and Adrian Wilson, among others, for a job. I do not think Bell is to be Rhodes’ long-term solution. For 2013? Maybe. Let’s see how the rest of free agency goes and how the draft plays out. The draft is deep in safeties, and remember, GM Steve Keim said one of the things he wanted to do this year was take a big picture view of how the draft and free agency fit together based on available players in both areas.
As for the players the Cardinals signed, we will see how it plays out. I’m not going to sit here and say they are saviors. But we don’t know how they will fit. I found it interesting, when Stanton was talking about the offensive line, that he mentioned that a change in scheme could change the way a unit or player played. We usually look at the downside of that, but there can be upside too. I don’t know how they will fit.
If Powers stays healthy, I think that can be a good signing, and if the Cardinals manage to nab Antoine Cason too — he will visit soon — to go with Patrick Peterson, all the better. There are still young players like Jamell Fleming and Justin Bethel to add in the mix, and that factors in too. Bell in the end could just be this year’s James Sanders. Mendenhall said he is healthy and has been since about the middle of last season, which is good for a player who could end up being the main back — depending how Ryan Williams responds.
There are more moves to come. Stanton’s arrival, as I keep repeating, doesn’t bode well for the future of Kevin Kolb and that decision has to be made probably by Friday anyway, since his roster bonus is due over the weekend. Linebacker Rey Maualuga left Wednesday without a deal, but reportedly Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley is coming in for a visit. Then there is the Josh Cribbs watch, with multiple reports still have him in conversations with the Cards.
There’s a whole offseason to analyze the moves. And I’m sure we all will.
Tags: Drew Stanton, free agency, Jamell Fleming, Jasper Brinkley, Jerraud Powers, Josh Cribbs, Justin Bethel, Kerry Rhodes, Lorenzo Alexander, Patrick Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall, Rey Maualuga, Ryan Williams, Steve Keim, Yeremiah Bell
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The Cardinals have made a free agency move (and the fan base can exhale.) While the team has not officially announced anything yet, the agent for running back Rashard Mendenhall tweeted out that Mendenhall agreed to a one-year contract with the Cardinals. Mendenhall played under coach Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh and had his best season when Arians was there. He did tear an ACL in 2011 and spent last year coming back from that. But the one-year deal works on both ends — the Cards get a player motivated to prove his worth, and Mendenhall has a chance to boost his stock and re-visit free agency next season. Reportedly, the Broncos were also offering Mendenhall a one-year contract.
The Cardinals also gave recent free agents like DB Richard Marshall and LB Quentin Groves one-year deals and those worked out pretty well (although both got paid elsewhere after the one year.)
Mendenhall will have a chance to work with Ryan Williams in the backfield. Both have battled injuries. Both have much to prove.
And I have a feeling, with QB Drew Stanton and ILB Rey Maualuga and CB Jerraud Powers all scheduled to visit today, and other names in the fire (now Antoine Cason the cornerback will visit), there will be more news today.
Tags: Antoine Cason, Drew Stanton, Jerraud Powers, Quentin Groves, Rashard Mendenhall, Rey Maualuga, Richard Marshall, Ryan Williams
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Both Steve Keim and Bruce Arians talked about the Cardinals’ top two running backs today. As you can imagine, injuries were at the center of their analysis with both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.
“I think Beanie had a tough stretch this year because of the injuries,” Keim said. “He showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness late in the year when he was able to. Some of the lower extremity injuries, his ankles, his knees, his feet, he’s had a tough time with his cut ability and his lateral movement. But Beanie is still a big horse who can finish runs and create yardage after contact, which is something that excites us.”
Arians didn’t get around to Wells, and it would still seem that Beanie’s future — even though his salary is a manageable $1.4 million this season (assuming he is a main back) — is up in the air. He still remains a work-in-progress as a pass protector, and that is a prerequisite for Arians. As for Williams, there is something to work with — as long as he can get on the field. Keim spoke generally a couple of times about availability being as important as ability and that certainly applies to the 2011 second-round pick.
“Ryan has to stay healthy,” Arians said. “I actually ran the (Virginia Tech) Pro Day there when all those guys came out and he was a fantastic athlete. He has to get healthy and we’ll see how he fits. But as a running back, he’s got what it takes.”
Keim said he has seen Williams rehabbing and sounded optimistic about what the Cards could have.
“He’s a guy that, watching film with Bruce, because he got injured early in the season, you forgot the type of run skills Ryan had,” Keim said. “We watched him against Philadelphia, we watched him against New England, his lateral quickness, his natural run skills, his avoidability is something he brings to the table. Plus he’s a three-down back. We’re expecting big things out of Ryan moving forward.”
Tags: Beanie Wells, Bruce Arians, Ryan Williams, Scouting combine, Steve Keim
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Just in case anyone wasn’t sure about new coach Bruce Arians wanting to get the ball downfield if possible in the running game, Arians makes it pretty clear what he wants to see in his running backs.
He wants someone who can run, of course. And block. Beyond that? Let’s just say that fantasy football players in points-per-reception leagues aren’t going to look at the Cardinals first.
“They are back there because they are runners and pass protectors,” Arians said. “Will we throw to the backs? Yeah. But the receivers are the ones paid to catch it. (Running backs) are helping but it’s doubtful our running back leads the team in receiving.”
Last season, injuries crushed the Cards’ running backs, so reception totals don’t correspond perfectly in what the prior staff wanted to do in the passing game, but even Ken Whisenhunt’s pass game didn’t use the backs a ton as receivers (especially after Tim Hightower left.) William Powell had the most catches for a running back last year (19), and that was sixth on the team behind Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd, Rob Housler and Early Doucet. LaRod Stephens-Howling was tied for seventh with tight end Jeff King with his 17 catches. Ryan Williams had seven receptions, Anthony Sherman five and Beanie Wells only had one.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Anthony Sherman, Beanie Wells, Bruce Arians, Early Doucet, Jeff King, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Rob Housler, Ryan Williams, Tim Hightower, William Powell
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When Bruce Arians was first hired, he talked about taking shots downfield, and people getting too hung up on how much a team runs the ball as opposed to how effective it was in the ground game, and how where a team stood on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter ultimately dictated how much a team was going to run.
But he also said “we will have an attack, and we will start with the run.”
Who will be running it? That’s a good question.
I expect Ryan Williams to have the chance to be one of them. As Williams said, he’s got the label of being “damaged goods,” and he has a lot to prove. Between a torn hamstring, ruptured patella tendon and fracture of his left shoulder, his last three years — one at Virginia Tech, two in the NFL — have been forgettable. But he’s feeling a ton better going into 2013 and thinks no one saw the real Williams last year in his brief time because his patella and knee weren’t ready, and he played like it.
“I won’t say I was rushed, but … people don’t even understand what was going through my head when I got that ball,” Williams said. “Say I was running to my left side, my whole right side is exposed. I’m ducking, I’m curling, I don’t want to get touched. The first thing as a running back, you can’t be scared, and those four games, I was scared. I’m not going to lie.”
Even if Williams returns and can do well, he can’t be the only option. Beanie Wells is here in the final year of his contract — he was rehabbing alongside Williams the other morning — and his status is also interesting. The relationship between he and former coach Ken Whisenhunt seemed strained by the end and perhaps Wells benefits from a fresh start. The Cards must decide what to offer unrestricted free agent LaRod Stephens-Howling, who seems likely to hit the open market at this point.
There has been speculation of a connect-the-dots variety that the Cards might go after unrestricted free agent Rashard Mendenhall, whose time with the Pittsburgh Steelers is coming to an end but who performed pretty well for Arians when Arians was offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. Mendenhall has battled a lot of injuries the last two years, however. Then there is the real possibility the Cards use a draft pick at some point. Alfonso Smith and William Powell are still in the mix for now, but again, when you have a new staff and a new offense, it’s hard to know exactly the direction the roster might go.
(In a semi-related note, running back Javarris James, who spent the 2012 season on injured reserve after blowing out his knee in the preseason, has been suspended the first four games of the 2013 season, according to multiple reports. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network said it was for substance abuse. James is an exclusive rights free agent. I’m not sure if the Cards were planning on bringing him back, but this news doesn’t help. James can take part in the offseason/training camp if needed.)
Tags: Alfonso Smith, Beanie Wells, Bruce Arians, Javarris James, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Ryan Williams, William Powell
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When Beanie Wells said on Christmas Eve he thought it was “inevitable” he would be moving on from the Cardinals, it spotlighted what will be one of the positions that will see scrutiny this offseason.
Beanie could be brought back — his rookie contract runs through next season — but will the Cards want that? Beanie acknowledged “it’s a performance-based business and I don’t know if I’ve done things up to our organization’s standards here.” He’s had flashes, like his dominance against the Giants and the Rams last season, but those games came few and far between. Up until this season, he actually missed fewer games than many thought, but the constant storyline of his various aliments were what stuck in many fans’ minds. (It didn’t help that both Beanie and the team remained incredibly vague about some injuries, particularly his knee issues.)
Back in 2009, the top three running backs drafted were Knowshon Moreno by the Broncos (12th), Donald Brown by the Colts (27th) and Wells (31st). None have really sparkled, although Moreno, given a chance to return from the scrap heap of late after Willis McGahee’s injury, has done well. Beanie certainly showed — especially as a rookie — he could be special. He just didn’t do it often enough, and the problems at quarterback have not helped.
Bigger picture, the Cardinals will need to reassess where they are at the spot. Ryan Williams told me today he feels the best he has in two years with the Cards. His rehab has gone well with his shoulder — he is due a final surgery this week as a follow-up, he said — and the knee wrecked in 2011 is in great shape. He said he will be full-go in the offseason for the first time this spring. But again, Williams has to stay healthy for him to make an impact, and he hasn’t been in two seasons.
LaRod Stephens-Howling, who will be an unrestricted free agent in March, has not gotten a contract extension offer yet from the team. The Cardinals do want to bring him back, but it’s looking more and more like the Hyphen (below) will be allowed to test the market first. From there, anything can happen.
Guys like William Powell and Alfonso Smith will probably be kept around this offseason, but their future I’d guess will tie directly into what direction the team goes with the rest of the running back unit.
It’ll start with the decision on Beanie, however. When everyone is healthy, Beanie is the starter. Or at least he has been. We’ll see if the vibe Wells has is accurate.
Tags: Alfonso Smith, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Ryan Williams, William Powell
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