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Larry Fitzgerald’s return, and what it means

Posted by Darren Urban on February 15, 2018 – 12:12 pm

Fitz’s future remains on the field.

We know that now, after the wide receiver let his new head coach know Wednesday night and then Steve Wilks told the world Thursday morning. The speculation had been going on for weeks, and even in the times Fitz talked about it, he sounded like someone who wasn’t ready to retire but there was always that little thought that he still might. That’s what happens when you don’t say you are playing for sure.

But that’s a question to park until next November/December (and yes, it’s going to come up again then, unless, of course, Fitz makes some definitive statement before that time.) What this news means now has a few levels to it:

— The Cardinals keep their best wide receiver. The wide receiver corps has a ton of questions around it. John Brown, Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden are scheduled to become free agents in a month. J.J. Nelson had times when he shined last season, but times when the Cards wanted more consistency. Chad Williams, 2017’s third-round pick, remains a question mark. Plus there will be a new offense. The Cards need to address the position this offseason. That doesn’t change even with Fitz’s return, but his presence makes any transition that much easier.

— He made the decision before knowing who the quarterback will be, and that’s a sign of belief in the franchise, if nothing else. It’s not like the Cardinals can make any QB moves at this point. Fitz has caught passes from 17 quarterbacks in his 14 years after Blaine Gabbert joined the group last season, so he knows what it’s like to be flexible. “I’ve had some years in Arizona where things weren’t always easy, but they’ve always done a good job of addressing that position, and they’re trying to,” he said last month. Faith reigns.

— He entrusted the news to Wilks, which feels like a sign of respect. Look, Fitz doesn’t love this storyline, he doesn’t like talking about his status one way or the other (his retirement news, whenever it comes, is going to be absent a live Fitz as well, I’m guessing, since he’s all but promised as much). I’m still not sure he’s met Wilks face-to-face, even. But Fitz flew off to New Zealand and told his new coach to tell everyone, and that bodes well for the relationship.


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Cornerback signs with tie to Wilks

Posted by Darren Urban on February 12, 2018 – 2:52 pm

The Cardinals signed a cornerback Monday — Lou Young, who has been around since 2014 and has had stints with the Panthers, Broncos, Ravens, Redskins and Jaguars. Much of the time was spent on practice squads, and he was with Washington in the 2017 preseason before he was released and did not play anywhere else during the season.

But Young did play six games for Carolina in 2016, when Steve Wilks was the defensive backs coach, and he was with Carolina in 2015 as well. And his arrival is a reminder of how chunks of the roster often look when a new coach arrives — it’s never a surprise to see a few friendly faces brought in. It’s a natural move. When possible, coaches want to know what they are working with.

When Dennis Green was hired, one-time Vikings like cornerback Robert Tate, offensive lineman Everett Lindsay and wide receiver Chris Collins all spent at least some time in Arizona that first season. Ken Whisenhunt had guys like wide receiver Sean Morey, punter Mike Barr and tight end Tim Euhus. Bruce Arians had Drew Stanton and Jerraud Powers.

Again, it’s not necessarily a big chunk of the roster, and it doesn’t mean the Cardinals will chase lesser players just because they have a tie to a coach on staff. But as with most places of work, familiarity helps.


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McCoy knows it’s about the players

Posted by Darren Urban on January 29, 2018 – 4:52 pm

Mike McCoy was blunt, when asked if his offensive playcalling was about scheme or matchups.

“Players,” he said, and that’s always the ultimate answer.

As an incoming coordinator, McCoy was probably never going to have a lot of specifics. He was just hired, and even if there was a quarterback in place, a change in head coach usually means a change in the roster anyway. Besides, he still has to evaluate the guys who are on the roster in the first place. Then you add in all the uncertainty on that side of the ball, because of impending free agency with so many (and the question of Larry Fitzgerald’s future, although more on that in a moment) and McCoy didn’t have the specifics I’m sure many wanted to hear. It isn’t feasible yet.

But it always comes down to players.

That can get lost, and yes, coaching matters. McCoy’s best time as an OC came when Peyton Manning was in his Denver heyday in 2012, but that shouldn’t be a negative. It’s a fact, just like Bruce Arians was at his best offensively when Carson Palmer had his best season in 2015 or that Ken Whisenhunt had his best offense when Kurt Warner stepped forward in 2008-09.

It’s impossible to know what the Cardinals’ offensive personnel might be. McCoy talked about wanting to win, regardless of how pretty it might look. He did that in 2011 with a Broncos offense using Tim Tebow(!) to win a playoff game and leading the NFL in rushing. He threw plenty with Manning and Philip Rivers. The Cardinals have one of the best dual-threat running backs in the league in David Johnson and I’m guessing he’ll do a lot of both — because why wouldn’t he? McCoy is smart enough to know what he has.

Speaking of which, McCoy sure sounded like a guy who expects Fitzgerald to play, which continues to be the guesstimate put out by those closest to Fitz, like his dad or Warner. “We might shift some things we wanted to be our core, then we’ll go the other way,” McCoy said. ” ‘We’re better at this.’ ‘David likes these runs.’ ‘The quarterbacks like these plays.’ ‘Larry, this is what he loves. This is what he’s good at it.’ We’ve got to learn a lot about the players too.” That sounds like a guy thinking Fitz will be around.

 


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Cards reportedly close to McCoy for OC

Posted by Darren Urban on January 25, 2018 – 6:11 pm

Ever since he was hired, Steve Wilks has been working on hiring his staff, and Thursday night came multiple reports that he’s closed in on an offensive coordinator — former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. He was a name that has been connected to the Cardinals for a while now. McCoy was reportedly the OC choice for former Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher had Bettcher gotten the head coaching spot. McCoy was the offensive coordinator in Denver this past season before being let go in November.

UPDATE: It’s official.

There are no official announcements yet on the coaching staff beyond Wilks, although names — as they tend to do — have started to trickle out. For a few days multiple reports have Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb coming as defensive coordinator. The Cards are expected to keep Byron Leftwich (QB) and Larry Foote (ILB) from the previous staff with the possibility of other holdovers (Kevin Garver for WR and Steve Heiden at TE). Other reported names have been Ray Brown (OL), David Merritt (DB) and Don Johnson (DL).

 


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Bettcher headed to Giants as Wilks builds staff

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2018 – 8:21 am

New Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday that he wants to have his coaching staff filled out by the Super Bowl (10 days from now) and already names are leaking out. Some could be holdover assistants from Bruce Arians’ staff. One will not be James Bettcher, the defensive coordinator who was among the candidates to succeed Arians. Multiple reports have Bettcher headed to the New York Giants as their defensive coordinator under new coach Pat Shurmur.

None of Wilks’ new assistants have been officially announced, but reports have Wilks potentially bringing Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb with him from Carolina to be his defensive coordinator. And, of course, Wilks is a defensive guy himself and figures to have a large say on that side of the ball.

As for Bettcher, Cardinals GM Steve Keim called him a “strong candidate” for the Cards’ job following Wilks’ press conference Tuesday.

“James Bettcher is a fantastic coach and he had a great interview,” Keim said. “He did a great job. I thought he did a phenomenal job with our defense. He’s going to continue to grow in this league.”

(The Browns, in announcing they hired Todd Haley as their offensive coordinator, also added a pair off Arians’ staff: Freddie Kitchens, who after 10 years with the Cards will be Cleveland’s running backs/associate head coach, and Amos Jones on special teams.)

Besides Holcomb, there have been reports of Wilks bringing in Ray Brown to coach the offensive line and David Merritt to coach the secondary. If Merritt’s name rings a bell, Keim mentioned it Tuesday during the press conference — noting that Merritt, a teammate of Keim’s at North Carolina State — was the one who originally introduced Keim and Wilks. Keim, of course, said Merritt was a Giants’ assistant coach, where he has been since 2004. With Shurmur’s arrival, he apparently is moving on. Another report has Don Johnson as Wilks’ defensive line coach.

Interviews for offensive coordinator are ongoing, Wilks said Tuesday.


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Wilks, Bidwill wait on Fitz like everyone else

Posted by Darren Urban on January 23, 2018 – 2:44 pm

New coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday he had a conversation with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but the wide receiver has not indicated to him one way or the other if Fitzgerald was planning on playing in 2018. Wilks made it clear it was important to him — and the Cardinals — that Fitz return.

“We would definitely love to have him back,” Wilks said. “He’s a major part of our success, past, present and future. First ballot Hall of Famer, so we’d definitely want him back.”

Team president Michael Bidwill, who has said before he had no interest in speculating — or even speculating on the speculation — was asked what his gut told him about what Fitzgerald might do.

“My gut says everyone needs to relax, let Fitz go through his process, and give him a few weeks to make his decision,” Bidwill said. “He’ll let us know.”


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In the wake of Steve Wilks arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2018 – 3:44 pm

The wait is over, and even with all the talk/speculation about potential assistant coaches hung up working in the playoffs, the Cardinals, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim went with a man whose team was sent home a couple of weeks ago — Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

This comes with all the caveats, the same ones that show up with every head coach. We won’t know what this means on the field until September at the earliest. Even in the case of Bruce Arians, when the Cards stumbled around for half a season, it took a minute for things to settle in. And as we all know, Wilks’ first year will be dictated in part by a quarterback that we not yet know. Well, we might know of him, we just don’t know if which one will be the Cardinals’ guy.

All that said, in my brief interaction with Wilks today, you can see why he can command a room. Michael Bidwill said recently that in the second round of interviews, usually someone stands out, and I can see why that would have been Wilks. We will see how his staff builds out. But now, the offseason feels like it can officially get started.

— No official word yet on assistants, but there has been some speculation. Jason LaCanfora reported that the Cards will have former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in for an interview. Bevell interviewed for the Cardinals’ vacant head coaching job in 2013 that went to Arians and is a product of Scottsdale Chaparral High School. Meanwhile, LaCanfora said Panthers offensive line coach Ray Brown (who began a long NFL playing career with three years as a Cardinal) could be coming to Arizona, with Joe Person saying Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb could be as well.

One thing to remember about all the assistant coach talk and speculation is that while some names will accurately land on staff, others won’t, for various reasons. It always plays out like that.

— There are some Cardinals assistants still under contract that Wilks will undoubtedly sort through over the next couple of days. I know many are asking, but there is nothing yet about what might happen with defensive coordinator James Bettcher.

— Speaking of defense, yes, Wilks ran a 4-3 in Carolina. The personnel he has inherited is for a 3-4 base. Something is going to have to change, although do not forget that the vast majority of defensive snaps these days are spent in packages that usually include extra defensive backs. And when the Cards rush in obvious passing situations, they line up with four up front anyway.

— I’m thinking it’s too early to know what the impact of Wilks is on Larry Fitzgerald’s decision. I’d think he’d want to know who the offensive staff will be first.

— The Wilks press conference is Tuesday at noon, and it’ll be streamed live on azcardinals.com. (Thanks to the Panthers for the pic.)


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