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Friday before the Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on November 18, 2016 – 4:20 pm

The very first game Larry Fitzgerald played in the NFL was in Minnesota. That’s where the Cardinals opened the preseason in 2004. (He was targeted twice, making one catch for five yards.)

The first game Fitzgerald played that counted in Minnesota was in 2006, and that’s the game he set his regular-season best in yards, with 172 on 11 catches. (He had 176 yards against the Packers in the playoffs in 2015.)

Fitz insists this is just a business trip, and truth be told, he spends enough summer time in Minnesota where I could see how he would be able to separate. Shameless plug: Here’s the story I did after going to Minnesota in 2012 and talking to him at his house on the lake.

(By the way, one part of the interview burned into my brain from that Minny visit: Did you know Fitz wants to go into space?)

Besides, Fitzgerald has big enough reasons to want to get this one aside from his 0-4 record against the Vikings in Minnesota (The Fitz-era Cardinals are 2-1 against the Vikings in Arizona.) It’s not the fact the franchise hasn’t won there since a 1977 game, with an eight-game losing streak. It’s the fact the Cardinals need the win basically to stay in the playoff race. Mathematically they won’t be eliminated, but with a game coming in Atlanta and the Vikings struggling like they are, this one is crucial. No way to argue otherwise.

— It’s easy to wonder about the Cardinals’ offensive line, and John Wetzel and D.J. Humphries will be tested (yes, that is an understatement) against this front in this building. The Cards have to run the ball better than they did last week, you’d think.

But the Vikings are facing the same issues, if not moreso. With no Adrian Peterson and line injuries, the Vikings have one of the worst rushing offenses in the league. QB Sam Bradford has been solid when he has time – he’s only thrown two picks – but he can be sacked. For the noticeable hiccups the Cardinals have had on defense, and some blown coverages, the Cardinals have allowed a league-low 4.7 yards per play this season and their pass defense has nine interceptions and has allowed only six passing touchdowns.

— Along those lines, the Patrick Peterson-covering-Stefon Diggs matchup is incredibly intriguing. Diggs has made 26 catches total the last two games. That’s a huge number. By comparison, Pro Football Focus has Peterson allowing just 20 receptions all season.

— The Vikings have 38-year-old cornerback Terence Newman, who has played a significant role. Peterson shook his head at such longevity. Peterson, at age 26 in his sixth year, said he wants to make double-digits for a career before he thinks beyond that.

“My mindset is I want to go as long as my body will let me go,” Peterson said.

— Michael Floyd is also going home this weekend. He’s from St. Paul. He was asked if he looked forward to seeing some snow, since it’s supposed to snow tonight. “I’m glad they have a roof,” he said with a smile, referencing the new stadium.

— We’ll see on Tyrann Mathieu playing. It felt like a red flag when Bruce Arians said he was sore on Friday. It’s hard to tell if the safety will be playing Sunday. It could be a true game-day decision.

— You feel better about Deone Bucannon playing, despite only one day of limited work. Arians said he was “fine.” He’d be an option on tight end Kyle Rudolph. The good thing for the Cardinals is that this is the first time in a while they aren’t dealing with a mobile QB (Wilson, albeit gimpy; Newton; Kaepernick).

— Fitz, by the way, had ditched the knee brace for Friday’s practice after wearing one Thursday (and in the second half of the 49ers game.)

— Will be cool to see the new building. Everything I have heard (and seen on TV) makes U.S. Bank Stadium the jewel it was supposed to be. We’ll see if the Cardinals can find a way to break their losing streak now that they’re in a new place.

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Pick plays a secondary needs

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2016 – 10:20 am

The Cardinals are playing well, statistically, on defense. They are second in total defense, and tied for third in scoring defense. But of late, the turnovers have dried up.

In their last three games, the Cardinals’ D has forced only one turnover — a fumble recovery in Carolina, a play that was negated by a Carson Palmer interception soon after. (The Cardinals did recover a fumble against the 49ers, but it was on special teams.) The Cards haven’t had an interception since picking off Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick twice on “Monday Night Football.”

It’s a big missing element right now. Perhaps it has something to do with the year Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu has had  — or hasn’t had — trying to come back from his knee injury and then sitting out last week with his shoulder problem (there is a possibility Mathieu will play Sunday in Minnesota). The Cardinals still have nine total interceptions this season, not a bad total given the bagel posted over the last month. But on a team that has struggled to score points consistently, those are the kind of plays that can change fortunes.

It could be tough Sunday — Vikings QB Sam Bradford has been careful with the ball, letting his great defense do the heavy lifting. Bradford has thrown only two interceptions this season in 283 attempts while taking 24 sacks. He’ll be smart. The Cardinals hope to get enough pressure to force a mistake — and maybe that can jump-start the Cards on the other side of the ball.

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Friday before the Eagles, and Fitz tackles

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2015 – 4:14 pm

Larry Fitzgerald has made it clear he doesn’t necessarily like to block. But he likes to tackle.

Sometimes, it’s a subtle attempt at a takedown, like when he was giving Michael Floyd grief near the end of the win in St. Louis when Floyd didn’t come down with a diving TD catch and slowly moved into position before the lighting quick lower-leg takedown on the sideline. (I have been on the receiving end of that move a couple of times over the years.) Sometimes, it’s full speed, like when he took down Smokey Brown after his TD against the Eagles last year (spooking Brown enough that he rushed his TD dance against the Rams later in the season for fear of a Fitz hit). Or, for instance, last week.

Dwight Freeney had just sacked Teddy Bridgewater to seal the Cardinals win. And Fitz sacked Freeney.

“Listen, we’re the two oldest guys out there and you’re running full speed and I’m sitting there wondering what he’s going to do,” Freeney said. “And then I’m like, ‘Oh God, he’s jumping.’ The whole game I’m healthy until that damn play.”

Fitzgerald – who complained he was whacked on the head by guard Ted Larsen’s helmet when Larsen, helmet in hand, went to hug Freeney – said he just got excited.

“I’ve known Dwight for a very long time, a long time,” Fitz said. “To be able to see him do that at that moment, for that number, a $200,000 sack, that was big.”

Ahh, the cash. Freeney hit the $200,000 incentive in his contract for his fourth sack, and he gets incentive money for each sack going forward. Fitz doesn’t miss stuff like that.

“I appreciate that,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m going to appreciate every single one for him here on out, too.”

Maybe there will be a sack-tackle in Philly too.

— Every Friday, both the offense and defense leave for a players-only meeting after practice ends. It’s usually just a wrap-up reminder from unit leaders about the game plan, imploring focus. Most of the time, the defense is gone for 15 or 20 minutes. They met for much longer Friday. After the mistakes made against the Vikings – and what can happen with similar mistakes against the high-tempo Eagles – there has been a drive to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

— The Cardinals haven’t turned the ball over in three straight games, which has helped considering two of them were close (weird to think in the three games before those, the Cardinals lost the turnover battle yet still won, which feels statistically impossible in today’s NFL.) It feels like turnovers will be the deciding factor Sunday night. If the Cards stay clean, I don’t see the Eagles beating them.

— If Rashad Johnson can’t play, I’ll be very interested to see how the defense reacts and what it means. Patrick Peterson said this week he can’t imagine life without Rashad behind the defense. Will they have to find out? (And given that Johnson is a free agent-to-be, could it be a trial run for 2016?)

— If you haven’t seen “Bruce Arians: A Football Life” you might not know that the Cardinals last year adopted the song “I’m About To Whip Somebody’s Ass” for pre-game. Safety Tyrann Mathieu said he is the locker room DJ before games and is the “only one with that song” on the team. Arians sent it to Mathieu during a text conversation last year, Mathieu liked it, and it became part of the team’s pre-game ritual.

“Every game, home or away, it doesn’t matter,” Mathieu said.

It doesn’t hurt that the Cardinals have won many of those games.

— Michael Floyd grinned, admitting again how he probably stole the pass for Fitzgerald last week that ended up being a 42-yard TD for Floyd, with Fitz blocking. Fitzgerald was asked if Floyd was going to buy him dinner in exchange.

“Mike is the cheapest dude on the team,” said Fitzgerald, who never seems to pass up a chance to needle his fellow Minnesota native. “Mike don’t even pay attention. That’s how cheap he is.”

— Yes, the Cardinals are on the road, but in anticipation of what is expected to be an influx of Packers fans next week after a noticeable amount of Vikings fans at University of Phoenix Stadium last week, Fitzgerald isn’t thrilled.

“Nothing that irks me more than seeing that,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to create that same tradition here. I know we have only been here since 1988. … Hopefully we can change that tide.”

— Freeney signed so late in the season he got a locker not with the linebackers but where there was an open stall. It happened to be between quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.

“It was kind of funny,” Freeney said, who added with a smile, “but I like being near quarterbacks.”

— Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, on the possibility of throwing at Peterson, who has been as much of a shutdown cornerback as anyone in the league this season.

“Well, I would probably prefer not to,” Bradford said. “Obviously, Patrick’s a great player. He’s proved that in his time in the league. But, if we have the opportunity and it’s there, you’ve got to throw it. You can’t let one guy take away a whole half of the field.”

— Kyle Odegard did a great job writing about running back David Johnson’s journey to the NFL. Check it out if you haven’t already.

— I think Johnson, who has 99 and 92 yards rushing in his two starts, cracks 100 yards this week.

— Next stop, Philadelphia.

FreeneyFitzBLOG


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Mathieu, Ta’amu, Minter, Coop to sit

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2014 – 3:30 pm

There are only four Cardinals that are not expected to dress for the game against the Bengals tonight, and none are a surprise. It’s the two guys who just came off the PUP list — S Tyrann Mathieu and DT Alameda Ta’amu — and the two guys who didn’t practice at all last week — LB Kevin Minter (pectoral) and G Jonathan Cooper (toe). Coach Bruce Arians said this past week that both Minter and Cooper face an important (if short) week of practice if they still plan on playing in the regular-season opener.

Even though everyone else is expected to dress, how much they play will be interesting. There have been a rash of injuries across the league this weekend as all team’s play that all-important third preseason game, and it affects the season. Just ask the Rams, who have lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford for the season when he again tore the same ACL that ended his season early last year. The Cardinals need work and want to be sharp, but more crucial is making sure all the key pieces are ready to play when the regular-season starts against the Chargers in a couple of weeks.

TaamuList


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Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 25, 2012 – 8:25 pm

The Cardinals know the criticism is coming, know it has been coming, know what’s being said. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was acknowledging speculation on his job security was “part of the business.” Linebacker Quentin Groves, meanwhile, was saying the Cards have to pull together because that’s their only option.

“We’re all we got,” Groves said. “We have to stick together as a family, as a team and then just say we’re all we got. The fans turn on you, the media turns on you, and at the same time those 62 guys in the locker room (it’s 61, counting practice squad, to be accurate) have to band together with the coaches as well as say we’re all we got, and go out and play.”

There isn’t much more to say on that. Obviously I’ve been through these losing streaks the last couple of years (and yes, so too have you) and I know what’s coming from you and in the comments below. No need to rehash them weekly. Sunday was a bad loss, especially after building early leads. Two road games are coming, in New York and in Seattle. Nothing simple about breaking the streak in either place.

Anyway, on to some game specifics:

— Ryan Lindley looked so … solid on that first drive. He was accurate. He was smart. And then it went off the rails. The interceptions, save for the last one (which I didn’t get a good look at), all looked like throws a rookie quarterback would make. The last pick-6, trying to throw something deep off a back foot, that looked particularly like a rookie. Doesn’t make it OK, but it wasn’t surprising.

The question is what now? Whiz acknowledged he thought about  taking Lindley out but didn’t. It’s tough for a team, though, knowing Lindley was in there two weeks in a row with a lead and the job could not be finished. The Rams didn’t come after Lindley right away. You have to wonder, with a Jets team reeling and with nothing to lose, what Rex Ryan might unleash on an inexperienced QB.

— Somehow, the Cards lost two games to the Rams this season when quarterback Sam Bradford completed a total of 15 passes in two games. Never thought that’d be possible.

— Having Beanie Wells made a difference early, but it felt like the Rams finally said defensively they wanted to make Lindley beat them, and he couldn’t, and that was that.

— Daryl Washington got his ninth sack and Patrick Peterson his fourth interception, and both were nice plays and helpful at the time. But defensively, the Cards let the Rams flip field position too many times. The big plays, like the first time against the Rams, bit the Cards. So too did Steven Jackson’s 139 yards rushing.

— Interesting that the game in which Todd Heap is essentially a healthy scratch, Rob Housler ends up with his best game so far (8 catches for 82 yards). Whether it was the defensive scheme or not, Lindley seemed to have a comfort level with Housler.

— Clearly, LaRod Stephens-Howling was having issues with his sore ribs. So William Powell got more time and chipped in six catches for 63 yards in that third-down back role.

— The question of the week will be Kevin Kolb’s health and Lindley’s status. As of now I’d assume Lindley is staying in there if Kolb isn’t healthy, but to be honest, Whisenhunt didn’t say that. The Jets will have extra time to prepare, but they’ve been pretty bad. Next week will be interesting. I don’t have much more to say about this week.


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Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2012 – 11:48 pm

It’s late, and I’m not sure how many will be reading this before tomorrow morning – or even before coach Ken Whisenhunt talks again. The winning streak comes to an end with a thud. It didn’t look good when the Rams went right down the field to score to open the game, but then the Cards were able to tread water for a long time. They just couldn’t put it together offensively for any consistent stretch in order to get it in the end zone.

So we get to the topic everyone seems like the want to talk about – the offensive line.

“We got beat,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We got beat on the edge a couple of times. We have to work on technique and our sets and do some things to help those guys out.”

I get there are many out there frustrated. I see on the blog and on Twitter. The reality is the Cards are playing two tackles right now they hadn’t planned on being the starters when training camp opened and there was a reason for that. The reality is if they don’t run the ball better – and yes, I know that is also in part on the offensive line – the opposition is going to have the chance at a field day rushing the quarterback.

There is no realistic option of change on the roster. I don’t see rookie Nate Potter as a possibility right now at left tackle. Do I think the Cards will look elsewhere? Maybe. I’m pretty sure they’ve been paying attention to the waiver wire ever since their injuries struck. They obviously haven’t seen a better option. Again, reality – there’re probably aren’t enough good left tackles out there period, much less when guys start to get hurt. That’s why the Cards wanted to make sure they brought back Levi Brown in the first place.

— The Cards made the pass protection manageable when Kevin Kolb’s pass attempts were in the 20s. The last two weeks he’s thrown almost 100 passes. That’s a ratio that’s tough to manage. That’s why everyone, from Whisenhunt to guard Daryn Colledge to Kolb to Ryan Williams, all brought up the need to run the ball better. Better will eventually translate into more.

— The hit on Williams was scary, but he almost looked confused why everyone thought it was a big deal after the game. “I’m straight,” he insisted, and was acting like he was fine. Which he may be. We’ll see. Obviously to lose him for even one game right now, with Beanie already down and LaRod Stephens-Howling a question, would be a killer.

— Darnell Dockett was active, but he didn’t play a ton and wasn’t a major factor. He’s one of those guys the Cards need to get all the way healthy.

— The Cards had themselves just one sack, snapping their 10-game streak of games with at least two sacks.

— The 40-yard missed field goal by Jay Feely was important not just because it would have made the game 10-6 at the half. It felt like it changed the complexion of the fourth quarter. Do the Cards go for it on fourth-and-goal inside the 10 with five minutes left when a field goal would have made it 17-9 and a one-score game? Probably not.

— Kevin Kolb missed too many receivers in the first half. There were drops definitely, and missed chances because pass catchers didn’t make a play they should have. But obviously Kolb missed on some throws he just can’t – including a bomb to a wide-open Andre Roberts, who had gotten behind the defense.

— That said, this narrative that Kolb is “made of glass” or as Tommy Kelly said in the preseason, “skittish” needs to go away. Kolb was beaten up and bloodied Thursday night and kept getting back up. Question him as a quarterback if you want to – and we all know some of you will – but please spare me the other stuff.

— Given the way these last two Thursday night games have gone – Thanksgiving in Philly in 2008 and tonight – I’m guessing Whisenhunt would love to take a pass on these outings for good if he could.

— If you would have told me Sam Bradford would complete just 7-of-21 throws and the Rams would win – rather easily, even – I’d have said you were dumb. Don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team collect more sacks (nine) than pass completions.

— Rob Housler just trucked a couple of defenders on catch-and-runs tonight. It’ll get lost, but man, you can see the potential there.

— We’ll walk off with a Daryl Washington quote: “It’s a long season. The good thing about the division is you get to see them twice. They have to come to our place.” The Cards are still in first place.


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Three straight openers against a rookie QB

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2012 – 7:18 pm

With the news today that the Seahawks will start rookie third-round quarterback Russell Wilson at quarterback (over free-agent signee Matt Flynn, in a mild upset given that Wilson had been generating big buzz since the offseason), it obviously impacts the Cardinals. The regular-season opener is Sept. 9, when the Seahawks visit University of Phoenix Stadium. That will make Wilson the third straight rookie quarterback to make his debut against the Cardinals in the opener.

In 2010, the Cards opened in St. Louis, when Sam Bradford had some trouble with Adrian Wilson in his first NFL game. In 2011, Cam Newton ended up setting an NFL rookie record for passing yards in his first game. In the Cards’ favor, they ended up winning both games (17-13 against the Rams, 28-21 against the Panthers).

Now the defense will get a chance at Wilson, who, unlike Bradford and Newton, was not the first overall choice in the draft. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will also get a chance at Wilson, who is under 6-feet tall, the reason he went in the third round. I’m sure it will be one of the storylines for the game in about a week (you know, after we get past the last preseason game, any forays into the waiver/free-agent pool by the Cards, and their own decision at quarterback.)


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While we wait …

Posted by Darren Urban on July 5, 2011 – 9:48 am

The Fourth of July has passed and that time when the lockout is creeping up on the season is coming fast. Talks are ongoing, and the hope still is that training camps won’t be delayed. Like everyone else, I am sitting back, waiting and hoping. In the meantime …

— Former NFL coach Herman Edwards was on ESPN’s SportsCenter this morning talking about his top five players to watch this season. At five was Packers LB Clay Matthews. Four was Bucs QB Josh Freeman, three was Rams QB Sam Bradford and two was Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant. And his top guy to keep an eye on? Cardinals rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson. Edwards has long been a fan of Peterson. Here’s hoping Edwards is right. Funny thing, by this time we’ve usually written and talked a ton about the first-round draft pick but because of the circumstances, he remains a relative mystery for this level. Will he jump in? Is he going to take longer to assimilate to the pro game because of no offseason (another reason it seems crazy for the Cards to deal DRC)?

— Speaking of the DRC “trade” — or more specifically, Eagles QB Kevin Kolb, some interesting stuff floating out there right now in this speculation bonanza we have. There is little question the Eagles think they can get a ransom for him right now, but who knows what that means? A Seattle radio station floated last week that the Seahawks would be willing to give up a first- and third-round pick for Kolb. That would change the dynamic of the situation, certainly.

As for Kolb’s play, Adam Caplan and Greg Cosell did an in-depth breakdown of Kolb’s five starts. It’s good stuff for anyone wanting to know more about this potential QB.

— Coach Ken Whisenhunt will be back in the U.S. soon after his trip overseas to visit military troops, a journey that took him to Kuwait and over to Iraq and eventually Baghdad and allowed him to spend Fourth of July with men and women defending the very nature of the holiday. Whiz is also scheduled to return to the American Century Championship according to the tourney. That’s the celebrity golf tournament held every year at Lake Tahoe (This year, it’s July 12-17). Cardinals linebacker Joey Porter is also on the list to play this year.

Then again, you never know what could be happening football-wise. I don’t know what a new labor agreement would immediately mean for the coaches. Hope we get to find out soon.


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Feeling familiar

Posted by Darren Urban on May 19, 2011 – 3:26 pm

While everyone waits for the league year to start — and, at its root, waits for the Cardinals to have a chance to figure out its quarterback situation — the possibilities remain open speculation. Suddenly, it begins to feel very familiar.

In fact, as I read about how NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi felt about Kevin Kolb during a Sports 620 KTAR interview this morning, and how Kolb has generated a range of believers and non-believers when it comes to his abilities and what it could mean to the Cardinals if there indeed was a trade here, it felt very deja vu. Is Kolb the right guy? What’s he worth in a trade? Is what the Eagles want and what the Cards (assuming they’d want Kolb) are willing to give up at least in the same ballpark? Hard to know, given Kolb’s relatively short career and seven NFL starts.

This is about more than Kolb, though. So many questions are flying around about Marc Bulger too, and he’s got a much longer resume. And Donovan McNabb and Kyle Orton and even Carson Palmer. I realized it reminded me so much of the ramp-up before a draft when it comes to quarterbacks. Obviously, the veterans have played in the league, but this feels a lot like how Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett, etc., were deconstructed over and over. Such as Sam Bradford last year.

It’s the position, of course. It’s the position and the importance it carries and, this offseason, its the days of dead time that allows for possible paralysis by analysis. The trade market for a player like Kolb doesn’t hurt either; unlike the draft, there is someone on the other side of the equation (the Eagles, in this case) hoping Kolb’s value is driven up during all these discussions.

Like the draft, however, it’ll be impossible to know what any of these quarterbacks could really do in a different situation until they get to a new place. Until someone gets here to Arizona. The naysayers could be right about Kolb, for instance. But like the draft, that’s why a team has scouts. They scout veteran players too. You have to assume, whichever player the Cards chase, they believe he will be successful. Why else get him?



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Pro days and the case for No. 1 Cam

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2011 – 9:54 am

The Cardinals have a handful of decision-makers — including head coach Ken Whisenhunt — attending Auburn’s pro day today, as colleges begin to host their home-cooking workouts. Obviously Auburn has a pair of potential top five picks in QB Cam Newton and DT Nick Fairley. Arkansas also has it’s pro day today; is it notable Whisenhunt chose to go where Newton is and not Ryan Mallett? Maybe. Maybe he already has seen what he wants to see from Mallett. Maybe the Cards will schedule Mallett for a one-on-one workout. The point is I don’t think you can make assumptions based on today’s choice.

At this point, the general feeling is that Newton and Misouri’s Blaine Gabbert (who, after not throwing at the combine, has his pro day March 17) are the top two QBs available. So to me, choosing to watch Newton over Mallett is logical. Doesn’t mean the Cards will take a quarterback.

Which leads me to this point: So many people are wondering if the Cards will take a QB first. What if Newton and Gabbert are both off the board in the top four picks? It may be a moot point for the Cards in the end.

My friend Darin Gantt, who covers the Panthers, told Bengals.com he thinks (at least on March 8th) that Newton will be the Panthers’ pick after losing out on Andrew Luck. That’d be a surprise. But I also remember about this time last year when everyone was just starting to talk about Sam Bradford going to the Rams No. 1 after he was hurt almost his entire final season in college. Everyone at first didn’t think Bradford would be the pick. Then he was, and it turned out pretty well for St. Louis.

That same top-three mock has Denver taking Von Miller at No. 2 and Alabama DT Marcell Dareus going to Buffalo at No. 3. That’d leave Cincinnati before Arizona. But all four teams in front of the Cardinals could conceivably be looking for a quarterback of the future. Would it really be a stunner to see both Newton and Gabbert off the board that early? I don’t think so.

We will see. In the meantime, the Cards will continue checking out the pro days (general manager Rod Graves is scheduled to attend the pro days of TCU, LSU and Texas A&M over the next six days) and doing due diligence. There can only be four players taken before the Cards go. Someone high-profile is going to be sitting there at 5. Who that is, however, remains vague.


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