You can see the emphasis Steve Wilks is putting on special teams early on in his tenure, devoting a good chunk of both Phase Two and Phase Three on-field work every day to let special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers do his thing. Along those lines, the Cardinals have had some pretty good special teamers over the years, and that was noted when veteran NFL reporter Rick Gosselin — who has long had a detailed system on how to rank special teams units and is an expert on that part of the game — created his all-time special teams lineup.
Three Cardinals made the list, all for their coverage work. Four-time Cardinals special teams Pro Bowler Ron Wolfley, now the Cards’ color analyst, made Gosselin’s first team, along with a quote from Patriots coach Bill Belichick — who was Wolfley’s coach when both were in Cleveland.
“Wolfley had less speed than those other guys,” Belichick said. “But he was very tough with a top motor. He was physical to run through blockers. He wasn’t always the first downfield, but he was around the ball and smart to recognize wall returns and the blocking schemes. He played next to the center on the punt team and was both strong and smart in protection.”
The other two Cardinals landed on the second-team, and are more recent vintage. The just-departed Justin Bethel never quite worked out as a cornerback, but he was excellent on special teams, making three Pro Bowls in six seasons with the Cardinals. And Sean Morey was one of the first players Ken Whisenhunt brought over from Pittsburgh. Morey made a Pro Bowl as a Cardinal as well, memorably blocking a punt in overtime in 2008 that Monty Beisel recovered for a game-winning overtime touchdown against Dallas.
Tags: Bill Belichick, Justin Bethel, Ron Wolfley, Sean Morey
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When the Cowboys visit Arizona of late, it’s provided quite the show. The last three times, it’s been decided at the very end.
* In 2008, the game goes to overtime, and the Sean Morey blocks a punt, with Monty Beisel recovering in the end zone for a 30-24 win;
* In 2010, on Christmas night, the Cardinals blew a 21-3 lead and then got a Jay Feely field goal with five seconds left for a 27-26 win;
* In 2011, Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey misses a 49-yard field goal on the final play of regulation and the game went to overtime. LaRod Stephens-Howling then grabbed a Kevin Kolb dump pass and raced 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Whether we’ll see that kind of drama Monday night is unlikely, but you can’t really know. This is a game where you figure to get a much better read on the Cardinals. No early start time to gum up the works, no road game. If the Cards are going to show more than they have, this is the time and place.
“The Cowboys are apparently ‘America’s Team’ so there will be a lot of eyes on this matchup,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said.
In a weekend in which I’m guessing a lot of eyes will be everywhere on the NFL after the President’s comments and the league-wide reaction to them, Cardinals-Cowboys will cap what will likely be an emotional weekend all around. A win would do wonders for the Cards’ emotion too.
— I like the concept from Frostee Rucker about the Cardinals staying together one way or the other when it comes to potential protest. The idea that sports can stay separate from where we are as a country, though, that’s long past.
— As expected, John Brown is going to sit again (so will D.J. Humphries), and so J.J. Nelson becomes important again. Not ideal that he’s listed as questionable, or that your speed merchant is dealing with a hamstring. If I had to guess, I’d think Nelson plays, but if he was limited all week, there has to be concern with how much he can do.
— It looks like the Cards finally get Deone Bucannon back. As for the questionable Mike Iupati, after the job Alex Boone did last week, if you aren’t sure, it makes sense to me to stick with Boone again.
— Speaking of Boone, there was some learning-on-the-fly last week. “I’m not even kidding, there was a play where I was like, ‘I have no idea what’s going on,’ ” Boone said. “Carson (Palmer) looked at me and told me and was like ‘SET, GOOOO!’ Hey man, trial by fire, right?”
“As offensive linemen, we consider ourselves mushrooms because we get thrown in the corner of a dark room and people pile poop on us and then expect us to grow,” Thomas said. “So that is why we are mushrooms.”
I have not had a chance to run the mushroom analogy past any of the Cards’ linemen.
— One lineman who actually played tight end this week was rookie guard Will Holden, who played 15 snaps at tight end last week because Jermaine Gresham was hurt and he was a better blocking option in heavy packages than Ifeanyi Momah. Holden said he’d never played tight end before. Ever. In college, he came in for similar heavy packages but he played inside while they had another offensive lineman be the tight end.
“I felt fine,” Holden said. “It’s a little different view of the defense because you’re wider out and it’s a little harder to hear. But once you settle into the game, you’re just playing football.”
Holden said he was happy with his play, although he was willing to allow, smiling, that how well he did was “up for debate.” OL coach Harold Goodwin said Holden needed to finish blocks better. Holden probably won’t be needed this week now that Gresham is back, but it’s an option going forward.
— The last time the Cardinals hosted the Cowboys on “Monday Night Football” was 1995, when Larry Centers made his incredible leap, Buddy Ryan left before the game was over and cameras were capturing footage later used in the movie “Jerry Maguire.”
“Everybody loves Jerry Maguire,” Larry Fitzgerald said. “ ‘Show me the money.’ It’s what Monday night is all about.”
(Speaking of Maguire, it makes you think back to Rod Tidwell, right?)
— Bruce Arians, after the win in Indy, now has 42 victories as Cardinals head coach. It ties him with Don Coryell for second-most in team history (Ken Whisenhunt has the top mark with 49.) B.A. was asked what he thought of that.
“It was a bad team for a long time,” Arians deadpanned. Seriously, though, “to be even mentioned with Coach Coryell, that’s mind-boggling to me,” Arians added. “He was one of my great idols and watching that team play.”
— A random tidbit Fitz revealed this week, of which I have no recollection: He played special teams as a rookie. He was on punt return, as an outside blocker taking on the opposing gunner.
“I played hold-up guy,” Fitzgerald said. “I was pretty good at it too. Me and Nate Poole, we held it down out there.”
Poole, if you remember, was on the receiving end of the famous McCown-to-Poole TD pass in the last game of 2003 to knock the Vikings out of the playoffs and send the Cards from the No. 1 overall pick to No. 3. Probably got them Fitzgerald in the first place. Now that’s drama.
See everyone Monday night.
Tags: Alex Boone, Bruce Arians, Buddy Ryan, Cowboys, Deone Bucannon, Frostee Rucker, J.J. Nelson, Jay Feely, Jerry Maguire, Joe Thomas, John Brown, Kevin Kolb, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Larry Centers, Larry Fitzgerald, Monty Beisel, Nate Poole, Patrick Peterson, Sean Morey, Will Holden
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This is going to sound random — and, truthfully, it is — but there is a reason I am talking about the Cardinals and the 2009 Pro Bowl. I’ve been working on a piece about Larry Fitzgerald and his epic playoff run during the Cardinals’ Super Bowl season. That will be posted Monday. But one thing struck me as I looked back and researched things, especially when it comes to the Pro Bowl.
As everyone knows, the Pro Bowl is now held the week before the Super Bowl. Players chosen from the Super Bowl teams obviously don’t play, and at this point, many, many others find reasons not to play. Injuries, yes. And also, “injuries.” Back for the 2008 season, five Cardinals were picked to play in the Pro Bowl: Fitz, Kurt Warner, Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin and Sean Morey. That made sense. They all were excellent that season.
That year, the Pro Bowl was still being played the week after the Super Bowl. Everyone could still make it, but guys would still drop out. If anyone would drop out for a non-injury reason, it could understandably be players from the losing Super Bowl team — especially if it was a heartbreaking loss. But what I had forgotten was that all five Cardinals still showed up in Hawaii a couple of days later and player. In fact, Fitzgerald capped his great regular season and legendary playoff performance with a 5-81-2 line in the Pro Bowl and won MVP. That’s not a surprise, really. What was was the fact the Cards were 5-for-5.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Pro Bowl, Sean Morey
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The Cardinals just had their conditioning test and everyone passed, including G Deuce Lutui (whom Mike Jurecki reported yesterday weighed about 360 right now). Lutui actually looked pretty good running and beat out a teammate or two, although some of the veterans clearly know their pace and how fast (or slow) they can run to still make the make-able time. Everyone had to run two sets of 300-yard shuttles, save for the 10-year NFL vets like Bryan Robinson, Adrian Wilson and Anthony Becht.
(Of course, the loopholes kill. Punter Ben Graham smiled as he walked out of Walkup Skydome, where the running was held because of the rain. “Oldest guy on the team and I still had to run two,” he said. Graham is 36, but he’s only in his sixth NFL season — he gets no credit for the 12 years of professional Australian Rules Football he played. Not that Graham has any problem running two 300-yard shuttles.)
Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn’t speaking until after practice this afternoon. Lutui wasn’t available yet either, although I am trying to track him down. We’ll see if the rain comes back, forcing the first practice inside this afternoon. Or if the massive amount of rain already these two days will make it too slippery to be outside. This could be a very wet camp.
On a side note, congrats on a longer-than-expected career for former Cardinal Pro Bowl special teamer Sean Morey, who decided to announce his retirement today when he was supposed to start camp with the Seattle Seahawks. Morey was a good man who squeezed every bit of ability out of his body and gave everything to the Cards. He has become an advocate for the concussion issue in the NFL, although he fought the should-I-play-or-not issue himself. He’s an Ivy Leaguer so he will do fine post-football, but I am guessing he was hoping his NFL life would have lasted a bit longer.
Tags: Ben Graham, Deuce Lutui, Sean Morey
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The Cardinals brought back middle linebacker Monty Beisel on a one-year contract Monday, something necessary to uphold a semblance of depth at the position. Four guys also signed their tender offers: wide receiver Steve Breaston, center Lyle Sendlein, defensive tackle Gabe Watson (all restricted free agents) and cornerback Michael Adams (who was an exclusive free agent). The Cards now have just one unsigned restricted free agent — guard Deuce Lutui. Again, the Cards also lost a free agent Monday when wide receiver Sean Morey signed with the Seahawks, a move that wasn’t surprising.
Tags: Gabe Watson, Lyle Sendlein, Michael Adams, Monty Beisel, Sean Morey, Steve Breaston
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With the owners’ meetings wrapping up today and the pace of free agency slowing down, it may be a good time to look at where the Cardinals’ roster stands — and where there are holes that need to be filled by the time minicamp begins April 30.
This topic crossed my mind after writing yesterday about the signing of wide receiver Darren Mougey, who may or may not pan out but certainly isn’t been seen (at least as of now) as a replacement, whether it’d be Anquan Boldin or even Jerheme Urban. He’s just one of many receivers that will be on the roster this summer. Today, the Cardinals officially have 60 61 players on the roster, leaving 19 spots to be filled by the draft/undrafted rookies (which figures to total between 14 to 16, depending) and then some free-agent spots. There are seven veterans un-signed who could still return: LB Monty Beisel, FB Dan Kreider, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware, K Neil Rackers, DT Bryan Robinson and WR Sean Morey (although I think Morey is more likely to end up in Seattle right now).
(On my 60-man count, I am including all the restricted and exclusive rights free agents who have yet to sign their tenders, because they eventually will.)
What spots need shoring up? The Cards need at least one more quarterback, and even if St. Pierre comes back, they need someone young, at least for camp. They need another receiver or two, although I am guessing whether they chase a veteran may depend on what happens in the draft. Remember, at that spot, a fourth receiver would likely need to play special teams and guys like Kevin Curtis or Torry Holt tend not to want to do such things.
The Cards definitely need to look at nose tackle, especially if Robinson doesn’t return. They need inside linebackers even if Beisel comes back (which I expect). They probably could use another young pass rusher at outside linebacker without knowing exactly what Cody Brown/Mark Washington/Stevie Baggs brings to the table. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get another cornerback — you can never have too many — and a return man is also needed if Steve Breaston is going to be the No. 2 wideout.
Numbers-wise, here is the current 61-man breakdown by position:
- QB 2
- RB 4
- FB 2
- WR 6
- OL 11
- TE 4
- DL 9
- OLB 6
- MLB 4
- CB 6
- S 5
- Specialists 2
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Brian St. Pierre, Bryan Robinson, Cody Brown, Dan Kreider, Darren Mougey, draft, free agency, Jerheme Urban, Kevin Curtis, Mark Washington, Matt Ware, Monty Beisel, Neil Rackers, Roster, Sean Morey, Steve Breaston, Stevie Baggs, Torry Holt
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General manager Rod Graves is in Orlando right now for the owner’s meetings. I’m not sure exactly what happens with the Cards now in free agency — I am trying to get that answer — I wouldn’t be surprised if the plan, at least until the draft, is to chase a few of the Cards’ own un-signed guys like Bryan Robinson and then wait until after the draft to see where else the roster needs talent.
One spot the Cards will keep considering outside in free agency is kicker. Jay Feely is still in play — he finished up his visit Monday — and there remains the option of bringing back Neil Rackers. Safety Matt Ware, despite earlier reports elsewhere in the NFLverse, has not yet re-signed and I don’t get the sense that’s imminent. I still think he eventually returns. Wide receiver/special teamer Sean Morey wants to return, I believe, but he has yet to re-sign and took a visit with the Seahawks.
UPDATE: Well, I was partially on track. I heard back from Graves, who said the Cards will continue to consider free agents. But if the Cards sign players from elsewhere, they would “likely be to replace some of our own UFAs that we do not have agreements with.” That’s the category Feely would fall under, and would come into play, it would seem, if guys like Robinson, Morey, Ware, linebacker Monty Beisel, quarterback Brian St. Pierre or fullback Dan Kreider don’t return.
I think the free agency market will be very interesting post-draft. Veterans who are waiting now for bigger potential deals probably aren’t going to get them, and historically it’s even harder to get a decent deal after the draft because teams have filled up their holes with new talent that can be home-grown. What happens to Mike Gandy or Chike Okeafor, for instance (other than that they won’t be in Arizona)? And will anything change this week, after NFL owners are going to get the low-down of exactly where things stand with the impending labor problems?
Tags: Bryan Robinson, Jay Feely, Matt Ware, Neil Rackers, Sean Morey
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Anquan Boldin’s farewell appearance at the Cardinals’ facility was today (going on now, in fact) at Kurt Warner’s annual charity flag football tournament. There is a bit of irony in the fact that, after Friday’s trade, there are actually more active Ravens playing in the tourney (Boldin, tight end Todd Heap and quarterback Joe Flacco, pictured below) than Cardinals (Larry Fitzgerald and Sean Morey, although the recently retired Warner and quarterbacks coach Chris Miller are also out there).
Boldin talked for a while about leaving Arizona. He said it was “bittersweet.” He said he had mixed emotions. And he said change was good.
“Change is necessary for everybody in life,” Boldin said. “In order for you to grow, there has to be change even when sometimes it’s not wanted.”
He chuckled the Anquan chuckle — that one he always gave you that meant he wasn’t going to say what he really wanted to say — when I asked him if he and the team had a good enough relationship that perhaps some day, if the team happened to invite him into their Ring of Honor, he would accept. “Ring of Honor?” Boldin asked with a smile, before turning serious again. “At this point, I’m not even thinking about (that far in the future). The only thing I am considering is that I have to make a move to back East.”
I suppose, sometimes, change is necessary.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Chris Miller, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Sean Morey
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I mean, back to the Cards’ Tempe facility to play his annual charity flag football tournament. … No, not back with the Cardinals after choosing to reverse his retirement decision. I apologize if the headline was misconstrued.
Anyway, it is time for Warner’s annual tourney, which will be held Saturday on the Cards’ practice fields. He’s got a star-studded list (although it’s not always a lock every guy actually makes it): Besides Warner, the “QBs” for the tournament are Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Todd Heap, Michael Strahan, Marshall Faulk and then the Cardinals’ contingent — former Falcons QB and current Cards’ quarterback coach Chris Miller, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Sean Morey.
Before you ask, sorry, the event isn’t open to the public. The teams/corporations involved pay Warner’s First Things First foundation big bucks for exclusivity. And I’d expect Warner’s team to be in the title game once again. Warner always wants to win anyway, and now, this is his lone football outlet.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Chris Miller, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Sean Morey
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Ranking special-teams units across the league is not an easy task, so when Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News came up with a system to do so, it’s become universally regarded as the best way to sort out such things. And this season, Gosselin’s rankings put the Cards eighth.
“Our specialists had a good year,” Spencer said, noting improvements in punts inside the 20, net and gross punting averages, and field-goal-made percentage. “The return game showed some life.
“It was an excellent effort by our veterans and out young guys.”
Rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling made an impact both in coverage and as a kickoff return man, while Sean Morey was a Pro Bowl alternate this season on special teams. Punter Ben Graham was snubbed for the Pro Bowl himself after tying the NFL record for punts inside the 20. Neil Rackers made an NFL-best 94.7 percent of his field-goal attempts. The Cards also got impactful seasons from guys like Jason Wright and Kenny Iwebema, among others.
“It’s amazing how smart you become when you have good players,” Spencer said.
Tags: Ben Graham, Jason Wright, Kenny Iwebema, Kevin Spencer, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Neil Rackers, Sean Morey, special teams
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