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Weatherspoon exits as rare one-year miss

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2016 – 10:18 am

Steve Keim has proved excellent at bringing in players on one-year deals and having them make an impact: Eric Winston, Matt Shaughnessy, Karlos Dansby, Antonio Cromartie, Larry Foote, Chris Johnson, Dwight Freeney. They won’t all work out, though, and Sean Weatherspoon — which looked so promising when it happened — did not work out.

Weatherspoon is re-signing with the Falcons after his one year out West. Weatherspoon only had 12 tackles in an extremely limited defensive role (he played just 125 snaps all season) over 14 games. He needed to show he could stay healthy again and he did that, although it was a red flag to his time in Arizona when he was active but didn’t play against the Rams in October and then the next week, was a healthy scratch against the Lions.

It’s hard to believe that Weatherspoon played with the first unit through the entire offseason work, although at that point, Deone Bucannon was working a lot at safety too. But training camp came, Weatherspoon’s hamstring became a problem, and when he missed most of the month, he had dug himself a hole he could never escape — especially after Kevin Minter showed more than expected when he was on the field.

To Spoon’s credit, he never sulked (although he did seem resigned to the fact early on he wasn’t moving up the depth chart). It was clear he wouldn’t be around in 2016. And that’s the upside about seeking one-year deals. Yes, sometimes a guy like a Dansby blows up and leaves for another team. Then you have a “miss” like Weatherspoon who creates no issue because his contract is up and both sides can just move on.

SpoonBlog


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Friday before the bye

Posted by Darren Urban on November 6, 2015 – 1:37 pm

There is nothing better than the bye at the true midway point in the season. Getting through a chunk of the games before you are off is invaluable both mentally and physically for a team — although as Carson Palmer said this week, there is no such thing as a bad bye. (Of course, Palmer was not a member of the 2001 Cardinals, who, because of an odd number of NFL teams at the time, drew the short straw and had a bye in Week 1 of the regular season. That’s right — 16 straight games after. That was an emotional time too, because 9/11 happened the Tuesday following Week 1 and games were canceled. The Cards had nearly a month between their last preseason game and their first regular-season game.)

But I digress.

The Cardinals are going to lament the two losses, games that frankly, they should have had, no matter what happens. They hope they don’t cost themselves something significant come playoff time. But it was a good first half of the season, and regardless of opponents, the Cards have proven to be a good team and one that should be in the postseason mix.

— What has surprised me in the first half of the season? Let’s start with Larry Fitzgerald’s big numbers. I thought Fitz had an excellent training camp and I thought he had a chance to get to 1,000 yards, but the Cards have gone to him more than I expected. Part of that started. I’d guess, because of Michael Floyd’s hand injury, but Fitz has looked terrific. Bruce Arians said a big reason is that he has stayed healthy, and if that’s what it took, that’s a good sign for the Cardinals because Fitz remains healthy.

— I’m surprised that Sean Weatherspoon hasn’t been a bigger part of the defense. I don’t see that changing much unless there is an injury. Deone Bucannon, at this point, is a linebacker. It makes for intriguing roster decisions beyond this year.

— I’ve never covered a Cardinals team (since 2000, mind you) that doesn’t say they have plans to significantly upgrade the running game going into a season. But this was the year it’s actually turned out that way. Chris Johnson has been marvelous. When you have a healthy Andre Ellington and he can barely get touches, that’s saying something about your depth.

— Take a listen to the latest Cardinals Underground podcast for talk between myself, Kyle Odegard and Paul Calvisi about the first half that was.

— This team will learn a lot about itself the next two games. In the national spotlight both weeks, at the defending NFC champion and hosting the sure-to-be undefeated Bengals (Cincy hosts Houston after 10 days to prepare.) The game against the Seahawks is paramount; you put Seattle in a tough, tough spot if you can knock them off in their place.

That’s next week, though. I’m going to enjoy a rare fall weekend off.

ByeBlog

 


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An early look at the free-agents-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2015 – 11:31 am

With the season halfway over and talk here and there about possible contract extensions, it felt like a good time to note who is scheduled to have their contract run out after the season ends. We’ve talked for a while about the secondary decisions that are coming, but in terms of players that are making an impact, it’s a lengthy list. This is only the players set to be free agents; There have been some of you wondering if, for instance, Tyrann Mathieu could get an extension. He is under contract through 2016, so I don’t expect anything soon. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.

UNRESTRICTED-TO-BE

CB Justin Bethel
LB Dwight Freeney
TE Jermaine Gresham
RB Chris Johnson
S Rashad Johnson
G Ted Larsen
LS Mike Leach
T Bobby Massie
CB Jerraud Powers
C Lyle Sendlein
T Bradley Sowell
QB Drew Stanton
LB Sean Weatherspoon
LB LaMarr Woodley

RESTRICTED-TO-BE
WR Jaron Brown
P Drew Butler
LB Kenny Demens
S Tony Jefferson

(Tight ends Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are all exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can be tendered and not go anywhere.)

Again, a long list. The restricted free agents, if you want to prevent them from hitting the market unfettered, can be tendered with one of three designations: A first-round tender (a one-year contract of about $3.3M), a second-round tender (about $2.3M) or the original draft spot ($1.5M). That means, if tendered, if another team signs them away, that team owes the Cardinals the tendered pick. Given that all those guys were undrafted, the Cards would get nothing for the low tender. It makes for hard decisions on a Tony Jefferson, and even to Jaron Brown.

As for the unrestricted guys …

It seems likely that the older one-year guys — Chris Johnson, Gresham, Freeney — would want to see what they might get on the open market. The secondary is the most intriguing area. It wouldn’t be a surprise that some team might want to swoop in and Greg Toler-contract a guy like Bethel, especially if they’d want him to start right away at CB. The Cardinals like Powers. They like Rashad Johnson too, but with all the safeties around, what will be the offer? What does the future hold (or rather, where is the future) for Deone Bucannon? Is he a linebacker or safety? That’ll come into play.

Freeagentgresham


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In West Virginia, Lions aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 11, 2015 – 9:16 pm

You know how it is when you’re packing for a trip. There are just times when you forget to stuff something in the suitcase. That’s what happened to Carson Palmer on the way out to Detroit – forgot to put his knee brace in his bag. So for the first time since he hurt his knee last year, Palmer played without it Sunday in the easy win.

What’s the best way to make that work? Run the ball. And that’s exactly what the Cardinals did: 187 yards on the ground. I mean, there were only 25 rushing attempts, and three of those were Drew Stanton kneeldowns to end the game, but the Cardinals only went back to pass 20 times total anyway.

(That’s what happens when the offense is efficient and the defense gets turnovers for short fields; 45 offensive plays, compared to 89 for the Lions. Detroit threw 70 passes, for goodness sake.)

Palmer was efficient, knee brace or no. He was 11-for-14 for three touchdown passes. But that run game … the Cardinals were fairly sure Chris Johnson had something left but like this? He has 405 yards in five games, and that’s after barely playing the opener. Toss in Andre Ellington – who showed what he can do with his 63-yard touchdown romp – and the Cards are in better shape running the ball than … well, a long time. I’ve been covering this team since 2000, and it’s easily the best running game the Cardinals have had since then.

— The Cardinals have to hope the calf injury of Alex Okafor isn’t serious. They need him as a pass rusher. It’s eerie – when Okafor suffered a serious biceps injury in 2013 against the Saints, it was in the game that was the front end of the Cards’ week away from Arizona. Let’s hope it’s not a repeat. Sean Weatherspoon doesn’t play that spot, although Weatherspoon will need to play given Kenny Demens’ knee injury. Weatherspoon hasn’t played special teams. Does that change now, with Demens – who was very good on special teams – down?

— Fitz had his quietest day of the year, but he had five catches for 58 yards and his sixth touchdown. And the 26-yard catch he had to set up his own TD? What hands, what concentration.

— Tight end Darren Fells scored the first touchdown of the game for the Cardinals on a nice catch of his own. It has to be an emotional time for Fells, whose brother Daniel, a New York Giants tight end, is battling a bad staph infection in his foot. Fells said he’d rather not talk about the situation.

— Arians said defensive line coach Brentson Buckner recognized the Lions’ formation and was able to predict the screen pass that was intercepted – oh so nimbly – by defensive end Cory Redding. Arians later said it was really a lucky guess, when he was asked if the Lions’ plays were telegraphed.

— The gutsy bomb from the Cardinals’ own end zone from Palmer to Smokey Brown, which went for 49 yards, was pure Bruce Arians. Sometimes I think Arians loves taking deep shots from deep in his own end more than anything.

— Patrick Peterson, who is one of the guys who runs the players-only defensive meeting Fridays, said if he would have realized Redding had been drafted by the Lions and played his first six years in Detroit, he would have had Redding speak. “It was a big game for him,” Peterson said, and Redding punctuated it with his pick.

— It’s late here in West Virginia. The Cardinals, for the first time on these East Coast-stay-back-a-week trips, have won the first leg (Lost in Washington in 2008, lost in New Orleans in 2013.) There’s work ahead at The Greenbrier, and the Cardinals will try for the sweep in Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, stay tuned to azcardinals.com. We’re here all week, chronicling the stay.

AfterLionsBLog


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Weatherspoon on inactive list in Detroit

Posted by Darren Urban on October 11, 2015 – 11:35 am

Bruce Arians said Friday with everyone healthy on the roster going into the game against the Lions, he would have some difficult decisions to make with his seven inactives. That came now, with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon — who had been penciled in as a defensive starter in the offseason but who had fallen behind Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon on the depth chart — declared inactive. It’s not a total surprise. Last week., Weatherspoon was active against the Rams but did not play a snap with Minter and Bucannon doing the defensive work. With Andre Ellington coming back to play today, the Cards went from three active running backs to four active running backs, and had to find someone else to sit.

Not everyone is quite healthy, it seems. Wide receiver J.J. Nelson (shoulder) remains inactive.

The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR J.J. Nelson

— LB Shaq Riddick

— LB Sean Weatherspoon

— G Ted Larsen

— T D.J. Humphries

— NT Xavier Williams

The Lions, already having ruled out DT Haloti Ngata, RB Joique Bell and TE Eric Ebron, also will be without starting guard Larry Warford today.

InactiveLionsBlog


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Keim: Losing is not acceptable

Posted by Darren Urban on October 5, 2015 – 8:13 am

The Cardinals lost their first game of the season Sunday, and Monday, General Manager Steve Keim was predictably upset.

“Losing is not acceptable to me,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “I’m not very happy. and that’s the way this organization needs to be run. From the top down, we don’t want to lose. That’s what we should get our fans in a habit of having, a team that is not accustomed to losing here.”

There wasn’t a whole lot of breakdown from Keim, because, as noted, the Cardinals were minus-three in turnovers and 1-of-5 in the red zone and that’s how you lose in the NFL. “It’s pretty simple — football 101,” Keim said. The one positive was that the Cardinals still had a chance to win in the closing minutes even though they played poorly, and even that didn’t sound like it improved Keim’s mood much.

— Keim did say he wasn’t sure he had ever seen an interior defensive lineman dominate a game like Calais Campbell did (11 tackles). Keim said he thought it was “maybe his best game as a pro.” Campbell was excellent. But Keim also emphasized Campbell was the only player he was willing to say had a good game. Everyone else might have had flashes, but also mistakes.

— The offensive line was “average,” Keim said, saying he thought they did a decent job against three- and four-man fronts but had trouble if any more players were brought in and the hot receiver wasn’t found immediately.

— There was “good and bad” from guard Mike Iupati. Iupati definitely had some rust, Keim said. (He also said there was good and bad for almost every individual he was asked about.)

— Keim was disappointed in defenders getting out of their gaps and not being in run lanes, noting specifically Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon (Minter after the game blamed himself for much of it) and bringing up Rashad Johnson’s bad angle taken on one play trying to chase Todd Gurley.

— The good-and-bad applied to QB Carson Palmer too. Keim said rookie David Johnson (again, a good and bad day for him too) was “wide open” on the final fourth-down slant and Palmer just put the ball too high.

— Keim said running back Andre Ellington was close to playing Sunday, and provided he has a good week, Ellington seems to be tracking to be available against the Lions.

— Keim was not asked about this, but I noticed after the game that while he was active, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon did not play Sunday.

— Keim’s final thoughts: “I’m more disappointed for the organization and fanbase. … We’ve just got to bounce back. It’s a long season.”


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Friday before the Bears – not shopping

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2015 – 4:12 pm

Two franchises remain from the original NFL that was created in 1920: The Cardinals and the Bears. The Cardinals, by the way, were named for the color of their original jerseys and not the bird. As long as we were talking history, I thought I’d throw that out. All that, of course, was long before now, long before the Cards moved to Arizona and long before any of the players in Sunday’s game were born. Long before their parents were born.

This is about 2015, of course, and the Cardinals’ first road trip of the season.

“We’re not going to shop on Michigan Avenue,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We’re going to play the Bears.”

— On paper, the Cardinals should win this game. Those odds should get better if the Bears are without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and linebacker BearsCardsUSEPernell McPhee, who both could miss the game. Yes, the Cardinals are without Andre Ellington, but they are actually fairly well equipped to weather that issue.

— Could they weather the absence of safeties Tony Jefferson and Deone Bucannon? Both those guys are game-day decisions with a bad hamstring and groin, respectively. I think they’ll give it a go, but we’ll see how they feel. The way the Cards’ defense works these days, those top four safeties are crucial.

— Then again, if Bucannon can’t go, maybe that means more work for Sean Weatherspoon, since Bucannon plays so much linebacker. No Jefferson, and that could mean more Justin Bethel or more Chris Clemons.

— That picture to the right is from a Bears-Cardinals game in November of 1959. It’s Soldier Field – you can tell by the columns – but the Cardinals were actually the home team in the photo (which is courtesy of the Chicago History Museum; J. Johnson, Jr., photographer.)

— Cornerback or not for Bethel, he will still play special teams, which he did for 26 snaps in the first game – even if he wasn’t happy enough with his key downed punt late in last week’s game.

“The special teams stuff is something I know I still need to do and make plays on,” Bethel said. “I wish I would’ve made a tackle or two. I hate when I go a game and don’t have a tackle, it makes me feel like I had a bad game.”

— The short pass/screen game didn’t go all that well for the Cards’ defense last week. Now they run into a running back in Matt Forte who is the centerpiece of the Bears’ offense. For defensive coordinator James Bettcher, he was confident in the correctable mistakes the Cards made – one cover was on linebacker Alex Okafor, a miss the linebacker insists won’t happen again –and that should start this week.

“Teams are going to get plays,” Bettcher said. “We understand that. When they do, it’s tackle (them) and go on to the next down.”

Said cornerback Patrick Peterson, “We have to get all 11 hats to whoever has the ball.”

— Bettcher did rave about Okafor’s first game, and not because of his two sacks. “I thought there were a couple snaps where he was so violent setting the edge (against the run),” Bettcher said. “You can see that. That’s the first thing that stood out watching the film.”

— Best quote of the week, at least from the Bears locker room: Cornerback Alan Ball, after watching the Cardinals-Saints game, said in total earnestness that Carson Palmer “is at his best moving.”

Palmer’s playing at a high level. That’s not a debate. But I don’t know if I’d say he’s at his best on the move. Palmer made sure he heard correctly when I brought it up. “Frightening,” he said. Even Carson understands a clean pocket is the way for him to go.

— The Bears have moved to a 3-4 defensive alignment this season. It’s going to be weird to see veteran Jared Allen as an outside linebacker.

— Arians decided to weigh in on the proposed Larry Fitzgerald-Darren Fells one-on-one basketball showdown. “I’ve never seen either one of them play, but I could probably take them both,” Arians said with a smile.

“But I ain’t playing for no checks.”

— The last time the Cards were in Chicago for a regular-season game: It was the 2009 season. Kurt Warner threw for five touchdown passes, including a pair to Fitzgerald (Nine catches for 123 yards that day). The Cards dominated.

We’ll see how it plays out Sunday.

BeforeBearsBlogUSE


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Broncos/CJ and Spoon aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2015 – 10:52 pm

Sean Weatherspoon as he noted the exact date when he had last played in an NFL game: Dec. 22, 2013. It took him a little longer to get back out there than he wanted – and the same goes for Chris Johnson – but there they were Thursday night. They didn’t play like superstars but they both played well, and that’s exactly what the Cardinals needed to see after aborted training camps for both.

Everyone can bag on preseason games if they want, but the two vets were exhibits 1 and 1A of why they are always a necessity for someone. Said Johnson, who hadn’t played in a game since last season and only had a handful of practices with the Cardinals with a bad hamstring, “I don’t think I needed to start the season not getting reps because I did it one time before and I just didn’t feel right the first game.”

Better yet, Bruce Arians said he expects both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas to return to practice this week, so the feeling is that the Cardinals should have more tight ends available than just Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah. If Gresham does indeed return, it’ll turn out that those three vets signed on one-year deals – including Weatherspoon and Johnson – should be available for the opener against the Saints. And that’s what the Cardinals want to hear.

— Both Johnson and Weatherspoon said they need to work on their conditioning. “I’m just thankful to be part of the team and get a chance to go out there,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s good to make some hits, takes some hits.”

— Chandler Catanzaro missed two extra points but Arians didn’t even let the question come up. “No, I’m not concerned about Cat Man and the missed extra points,” Arians said in his opening remarks, saying the question didn’t even need to be asked. I’m sure Catanzaro knows it can’t happen again, but as Arians said, at least it was in a preseason game.

— There were two penalties called on rookie tackle D.J. Humphries on back to back drives, but both were iffy. The false start might not have even been that much of a move. And the holding given to him was apparently on No. 64, Cameron Bradfield, and the officials just messed up the number.

— I thought Earl Watford held up at right tackle, and I fully expect him to be the right tackle starter going into the regular season.

— Rookie wide receiver Jaxon Shipley had 11 targets and nine catches (for 58 yards) and continued to push the best he can. Still, I don’t see him as more than the practice squad right now. He’s not cracking the top five. Same goes for inside linebacker Gabe Martin, who was working hard on defense all night.

— On the flip side, the way Alani Fua was used, I’m guessing he’ll make the 53 at inside linebacker.

— Markus Golden played well at outside linebacker and if Golden isn’t starting early in the season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get to the starting lineup at some point this year.

— He only had three carries, but Stepfan Taylor’s powerful run for 12 yards up the middle made an impression. Maybe he can be the Cards’ short-yardage guy over Robert Hughes, which could open a roster spot if the Cards only want to keep four running backs.

— I thought Phillip Sims came around. I thought Logan Thomas played better. I still think we are talking about the likelihood of carrying two quarterbacks, meaning Sims or Thomas would have to be practice squad. But we’ll see if, after the Cards watch the tape, they are convinced to do otherwise.

— Arians was asked if he was happy the preseason was over.

“Extremely,” he said, as a grin crept over his face.

You can’t see it, but I have a similar grin. Let’s get to the regular season.

Stepfan Taylor, Josh Bush


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Wednesday before the Broncos

Posted by Darren Urban on September 2, 2015 – 1:49 pm

It’s the fourth preseason game, and there is a short list of the things of which I’ll really focus upon when the Cardinals play the Broncos. Some are about the roster, some are about the lineup.

One of those things is the right tackle start for Earl Watford. It means so much both on the field and with the construction of the 53-man roster, because of the uncertainty with Bobby Massie and the rough camp of rookie D.J. Humphries.

To be fair to Humphries, and Bruce Arians acknowledged it this week, the idea was that Humphries was for the future, not necessarily 2015.

“We were hoping we had a full year to develop him,” Arians said, which speaks directly to the maturity issues Arians has talked about with Humphries, in addition to him being a natural left tackle trying to play the right side.

“But,” Arians added, “there is going to come a time when he’ll have to go out there and he better be ready.”

When you look how the roster is breaking down, and the very real possibility Humphries could be the backup swing tackle on Sundays, you understand Arians speaks the blunt truth. At least Arians added he thinks Humphries, over the last week or so, seems to have come to an understanding of the work ethic needed here. It’s going to take some time on Humphries, but Arians and OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin will work on him. And like Jonathan Cooper, it may take a little while, but there is confidence Humphries will get there.

The other places where I’ll be watching closely as the 53-man roster moves closer to reality (and I will have a post with my guess on that later today.):

— The first game action for running back Chris Johnson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon after hamstring injuries.

— The last push by three undrafted guys: Inside linebackers Alani Fua and Gabe Martin and cornerback Cariel Brooks.

— And of course, the play of quarterbacks Phillip Sims and Logan Thomas.

— While there are some roster spots that are in the balance, it is the Johnson/Weatherspoon/Watford spotlight that truly affects this team when it comes to playing the Saints in a little over a week. I think the Cardinals have managed to get into a place where if they do not have Johnson or Weatherspoon, they are prepared. I wasn’t sure they’d be able to get to that place with Weatherspoon, but Kevin Minter has had a good enough preseason that they are in a much better place there.

— In case you didn’t see it, recently released linebacker Lorenzo Alexander signed with the Raiders. Happy to see him find a job, and it’s back home — Alexander went to Cal Berkeley.

It’s about time to get the preseason over with, isn’t it?

BeforeBroncosBlogUSE


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Keim: Raiders game “a great wake-up call”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2015 – 8:07 am

General Manager Steve Keim acknowledged the obvious from Sunday night: There were a lot of issues offensively.

“It was a great wake-up call,” Keim said Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf show” on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Of the starting offensive line, Keim said guard Ted Larsen was the only to even have a solid game. But like Bruce Arians, he saw other problems, like Carson Palmer holding the ball too long a couple of times, some poor routes from receivers, and running backs failing to chip in certain situations.

“When you have so many things go wrong at the same time, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Keim said.

— Keim said the potential Bobby Massie suspension is “up in the air” until and if the Cardinals hear something from the league office.

— The battle at center between A.Q. Shipley and Lyle Sendlein remains ongoing, Keim said. (Shipley did have some issues Sunday night holding off the inside of the Raiders’ line, including ex-Cardinal Dan Williams.)

— Earl Watford played well, Keim said, reinforcing my view that Watford held up pretty good against stud Raiders pass rusher Kahlil Mack.

— Nothing has changed with Mike Iupati, other than he continues to rehab. Personally, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t miss some regular-season time, but we will see.

— Keim acknowledged there probably hasn’t been a preseason game the last two years where he hasn’t been concerned or there had not been some ups and downs. But he also said that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to feel good about. He thought the defense — other than a couple of blown assignments on coverage — played well. And he was happy with the play specifically of linebackers Alex Okafor and Kevin Minter and defensive end Calais Campbell.

— Keim said both running back Chris Johnson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon “have a chance” to play in Thursday’s preseason finale.

— The 12 roster moves needed to get to 75 should come today. “No reason to waste any time,” Keim said. The Cardinals practice this afternoon.

 


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