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Jason Wright retires

Posted by Darren Urban on July 18, 2011 – 4:17 pm

Kent Somers broke the news today that running back Jason Wright – a special teams ace and one of the anchors of the locker room – has decided to retire. It’s not a surprise. Quite frankly, it was a little bit of an open secret late in the year and, the day after the season, Wright acknowledged that was the plan. He didn’t want it publicized yet because he hadn’t yet talked to the coaching staff, and then, with the labor issues, I couldn’t talk to him directly.

But Wright had some thoughts that day after the Cards finished up in San Francisco. The Northwestern grad, who is now in business school at the University of Chicago, just said it was “time.”

“There are lots of reasons I can give,” Wright said. “Honestly, I love football and I love this team too much for any of them to be good enough. The real reason is me, and every single member of my family feels like it might be that time. It’s more of a subjective thing.

“I’m going to miss it a lot. I’m going to miss it a lot.”

Wright was the perfect fit as a fourth running back with Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling. He was a mentor, a sounding board, a voice of reason for the backs and the entire team. (He was also a go-to quote in the locker room, able to speak eloquently on any subject).

Wright did miss some time with a concussion last season, and for any player that can give pause, not to mention someone as brilliant as Wright. But he insisted his choice had nothing to do with concussions or bodily harm.

“My body, I probably have two years left at the level I am playing at, or one and maybe stretch it into two,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s not that at all. It’s just the right time. I feel like I am ready for the next step.”

He said he wouldn’t mind working in the NFL in the future, perhaps even helping someone like Michael Bidwill run a franchise.

“Who knows?” Wright said. “I may come calling (the Cardinals) again.”

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Beanie: “I’m definitely not striking out”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 16, 2011 – 10:03 am

Running back Beanie Wells was on “The Chuck and Vince Live” show this morning on The Fan AM 1060, and while he’s obviously going to portray confidence, he also made it clear he understands his opportunities to show something — at least in Arizona — are probably dwindling.

“This is definitely going to be my year without a doubt,” Wells said. “This is my third year and three strikes and you’re out, and I’m definitely not striking out. I am ready to tear it up. It’s my time and I am ready to go out and prove that.”

The funny thing is, Beanie getting off-track is really confined just to last season. He played well as a rookie and was clearly improving as the 2009 season went along. It was hard to think of him as anything but a potential breakout star as the Cards went to training camp last season. Then came the preseason knee injury in the fourth preseason game, and with the overall issues on offense all the way around, no offensive player had the kind of year they wanted to in 2010. Does Beanie take more criticism because of his high-profile and draft status? Probably. That’s how it work, however.

Like everyone else, though, Wells admitted he was “surprised” and thought it was “shocking” when the Cards took running back Ryan Williams with their second-round pick.

“I didn’t think we really needed a running back, especially in the second round,” Wells said. “But obviously they did. I just take it on as more competition and prepare the same way.” Later he added, “I wasn’t angry. You know the ins and outs of the business. If they don’t like the production at a position, they’re probably going to get another one. this game is like a candy store — if you don’t like the candy you taste, you get another piece.”

Interesting, when Beanie was asked about what he thought this meant for his job, he chuckled. “I didn’t really have a job. I wasn’t the starting running back, Tim (Hightower) was. I was just trying to compete to become the starting running back.”

We’ve talked about this before, but Williams’ arrival certainly clogs up the backfield situation. Until Williams can prove himself on the field, I expect everyone to stick around, but with Hightower’s fumbles and Wells’ apparent step-back last season, you could make the argument LaRod Stephens-Howling is the Cards’ running back on the sturdiest ground as we stand here on July June (thanks Sando) 16.

Beanie sounded like he’s about wait-and-see too. “I don’t know what to really think about (Williams’ arrival), other than to take it in stride.”

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Considering the crowded backfield

Posted by Darren Urban on May 5, 2011 – 9:49 am

Last year, the Cardinals had four running backs: Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Jason Wright. One time, in Kansas City, both LSH and Wright were out with injuries. Stephens-Howling missed two other games. Beanie missed three games himself (Hightower played in all 16 games). In all, there were 10 games in which the Cards had and used all four backs.

It can work and, given how much practice was missed during the season as one or more of them had nagging aliments, all four were needed.

That’s the backdrop this year with the addition of second-round pick Ryan Williams, the surprising – to a point – choice in the draft. Wright was leaning heavily toward retirement at the end of the season, so the Cards were going to need another back to continue its ratio. Of course, the questions many have aren’t about whether the Cards need four backs, it’s how much playing time each will get.

Hightower had a pretty good season last year and earned the starting job he had nearly all season. But no one – including coach Ken Whisenhunt – is going to forget Hightower’s fumbling issues. Wells has a load of talent, but seemed to take a step back last season with injuries and never found a rhythm all season (although, arguably, the running game was behind the eight-ball given the offense’s circumstances most of the year). The Hyphen flashed every time he had a chance as a back, but he is undersized and has importance on special teams.

“It wasn’t done with the idea of sending one of those guys a message,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the pick, and on the surface, I do believe the Cardinals forcefully went into the draft looking to take the best players available  – as they saw them – regardless of the position.

There is little question, though, that they want more from the veteran running backs, and Wells in particular. Beanie told Craig Morgan he understood what the Cards were doing and is even planning to bring both Williams and rookie fullback Anthony Sherman out to Arizona to work out with him. Beanie mentioned “if I’m getting better, I can send a message.”

Anyone following a NFL team has to understand the business part rears up often. I’m sure Edgerrin James didn’t see Hightower replacing him halfway through 2008, just as no one guessed Williams would  be an early pick this season. It’s tough not to note, however, that Whisenhunt continues to mention how the Cards were 5-11 last season, so everything needs to be better. That includes the running game as a whole, and the running backs individually. Williams, in theory, should help that. How it eventually shakes out the depth chart (or, possibly, the roster makeup), well, that’s the storyline everyone has to watch play out.

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Cards take RB Ryan Williams in second

Posted by Darren Urban on April 29, 2011 – 3:46 pm

Well, there’s a curveball from the Cardinals, as they spend their second-round pick on Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams. Jason Wright is likely retiring but the Cards still have Beanie Wells, Tim Hightower (whose contract has expired) and LaRod Stephens-Howling. You figured they needed a back, but a surprise in the second, especially since they are clearly still looking for a pass rusher. You also wonder how much Hightower’s lingering fumble issues could be in play.

Williams is called a “supercompetitive multi-purpose back” by Pro Football Weekly, who also note he “runs too hard” as a negative (I always thought that was a plus, right?).

We’ll have to wait for press conference later to get a better picture. But again, they always say they want to take best player available. You have to assume that’s what they did.

UPDATE: Williams just said during his pre-draft visit to Tempe, the Cards told him they hoped he’d fall to them in the second round at pick No. 38, and if he did, he’d be a Cardinal. So I guess this wasn’t a surprise to anyone in the know.

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Fitz gets the guys together

Posted by Darren Urban on April 12, 2011 – 3:04 pm

A story today from Kent Somers about how Larry Fitzgerald organized a workout today for 20 Cards over at Arizona State University. Kent doesn’t list everyone involved, but among those there were Rex Hadnot, Tim Hightower, Lyle Sendlein, Clark Haggans, Max Hall and John Skelton. With no way to come to the facility now in lieu of the lockout, this was always a possibility. The day after the season, Sendlein even talked about the need to work on their own.

Kent notes only eight guys were there Monday. Giving a “lineup” of who is there and who isn’t is always dicey. These things are even more voluntary than the regular “voluntary” workouts of an offseason. (Side note: I remember one year covering the team for the East Valley Tribune when I did a story on the opening of voluntary conditioning work and got specific about a few guys who were there and a few guys who were not. I noted big tackle Leonard Davis wasn’t there. The next day, Davis was on the field when I went outside to make a phone call. “I’m here, Darren,” Davis yelled out. “I’m here Darren.” He wasn’t mad. I don’t think. But he made his point.)

Always good to see some of the players be willing to do such things. Even better to see Fitz spearheading it. (Read Kent’s piece for a few Fitz quotes). Of course, I’d love for labor peace to come sooner rather than later, so I could write some of these stories myself. For now, though, it’s important. We still could see a lot of Skelton-to-Fitzgerald this season. Better to have them work on that timing now.

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The RFA tender offers

Posted by Darren Urban on March 4, 2011 – 2:15 pm

I know there are many wondering exactly which players were tendered restricted free agent contracts for the Cardinals, so here is that list:

  • RB Tim Hightower
  • WR Early Doucet
  • G Deuce Lutui
  • WR Steve Breaston
  • DL Alan Branch
  • C Lyle Sendlein
  • T Brandon Keith

Some quick thoughts on these. These were clearly done — not surprisingly — based on the 2010 rules that it takes six accrued seasons to reach unrestricted free-agent status. Conventional wisdom is that the new CBA will again call for four years to reach UFA status, which in the Cards’ case would mean the tenders wouldn’t matter to Lutui, Breaston, Branch or Sendlein — all would be unrestricted.

It’s also notable (although not a shock, given how much he was inactive) that the Cards declined to tender NT Gabe Watson, who would be in the same boat as Lutui, for example, after playing five seasons. TE Ben Patrick also could have been in that vein, although again, that doesn’t absolutely rule out a return. It just means the Cards weren’t willing to lock them into a high salary. Same goes for TE Stephen Spach and DE Kenny Iwebema, among others.

The level of each tender offer was not available.

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Who is expiring?

Posted by Darren Urban on March 3, 2011 – 2:53 pm

Regardless of the status of the CBA, the Cardinals have a chunk of players whose contracts will expire whenever the league year ends. What that means for free agency is uncertain because the CBA will address those rules. But as an FYI, here is a list of the current Cardinals who will have their contract run out this offseason. If a player has an asterisk, he has at least four accrued seasons in the NFL:

  • FB Nehemiah Broughton
  • RB Tim Hightower
  • FB Reagan Maui’a
  • RB Jason Wright*
  • WR Max Komar
  • WR Steve Breaston*
  • WR Early Doucet
  • TE Ben Patrick
  • TE Stephen Spach
  • T D’Anthony Batiste
  • C Ben Claxton
  • G Alan Faneca*
  • T Brandon Keith
  • G Deuce Lutui*
  • C Lyle Sendlein*
  • DL Alan Branch*
  • DL Keilen Dykes
  • DE Kenny Iwebema
  • DL Bryan Robinson*
  • DT Gabe Watson*
  • LB Curtis Gatewood
  • LB Cyril Obiozor
  • LB Reggie Walker
  • S Hamza Abdullah
  • CB Michael Adams
  • CB Trumaine McBride
  • S Matt Ware*
  • P Ben Graham*

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Choosing the Play Of The Year

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2011 – 7:09 pm

Of course, the wish was that the Cardinals would still be playing right now. Then they would still be compiling plays, and we wouldn’t be able to put together a final list of Play Of The Year nominees.

But the season is over. So our crack staff here at azcardinals.com and in the multi-talented broadcast department came up with seven nominees for the Play Of The Year. So you can vote below to make a choice. I am sure there will be those that think we are forgetting one or two, but here was our list — in no particular order — based on not only the play but the context of the play (with video right here):

  • The St. Louis Strip — Steve Breaston hustles down the field after a lost fumble to create one of his own, saving a touchdown and saving a win against the Rams.
  • He Took It To The House — The Hyphen, LaRod Stephens-Howling, returns a kickoff for a touchdown against the Raiders and wins a house for a fan.
  • Rhodes Map To Paydirt — Kerry Rhodes picks up a fumble to score the go-ahead TD in the big win against the Saints.
  • Feelin’ Good — Kicker Jay Feely runs in a fake field goal for a touchdown against the Broncos.
  • Mile ‘High” Run — Tim Hightower breaks out a 35-yard TD run for the exclamation point on a win and his biggest game as a pro.
  • First Of Many? — John Skelton’s first NFL TD pass is a doozy — 74 yards to Andre Roberts against Dallas.
  • Christmas Present — Feely boots the game-winning field goal against the Cowboys to cap a very merry Christmas.

All the plays can be seen right here in this video. Again, please vote. Have your friends vote. Have your dog vote. It’s your duty as an American.

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49ers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2011 – 11:58 pm

It seemed like the question to ask, so I was asking it. Is it a relief to have this season over?

The answers were measured. Alan Faneca talked about the one plus was that the Cards were back to 0-0 moving forward. Tim Hightower talked about the wish it wasn’t over, and yet end of the nightmare that was.

“Not really a relief, but we are glad it’s over from the standpoint of all the negative that happened to this group,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Now we get a fresh start.”

No question a fresh start is needed. I’m not going to get into everything right now – gotta have something to write about in the coming days – but after a 5-11 season, changes are needed, and changes are coming. That’s for sure.

“I learned a lot this year myself,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, and I am sure everyone is curious to know how that will manifest itself.

Whisenhunt wouldn’t talk about the possibility of changes on the coaching staff. Not sure he will tomorrow morning at his season-ending presser either. I am sure he will be asked again tomorrow however, and unless he comes out and says specifically there will be no changes, I would think there’s a good chance something will happen.

— Some comments by team president Michael Bidwill during a pre-game radio interview Sunday:

On the season overall: “We did not expect to go in and have the losing streak we had, to have the offense struggle, to have the defense break down at times. I think this offseason will be dedicated to how we get better. What are the types of players we build around? What are some of the other things we can do? (We need to) make sure we provide the best Cardinal football we can.”

On specific problems: “We’ve got some areas to shore up. Obviously quarterback play was a big issue for us this year. We’ve got to get more out of our running game, we’ve got to get more out of our defense. Our defense has got to be able to stop opposing offenses on third down.”

Bidwill said the coaches will evaluate the whole roster in the next few days and then the decision-makers will meet later in the week to determine the path of the offseason.

— Not a good day for DRC. Three penalties (one was declined) and he gave up three passes of at least 20 yards. “You’re always frustrated when someone catches a ball on you,” he said. “They played well. They came out fired up, and they wanted it more bad than we did.” Rodgers-Cromartie already acknowledged his year hasn’t been the best. He needs a big rebound performance in 2011.

— Larry Fitzgerald only had 79 catches coming into the game. It’s stunning he got to 90 for the season – becoming the first player in NFL history to have at least 90 catches in five of his first seven seasons. Fitz is one of only four players in NFL history to have at least four straight seasons of 90-plus catches, joining Torry Holt (6), Marvin Harrison (5) and Jerry Rice (4).

— About not throwing to Fitz … 17 targets? They started throwing to him despite double-coverage. And he made several Fitz catches. Shades of his 2008 playoff run, I thought.

TE Stephen Spach said his calf injury was just something that would keep him out a couple of weeks. So nothing huge, but incredibly bad timing.

— Faneca said he hasn’t made any retirement decisions. “I’m going to step away and think about things and talk with the wife, the boss and figure things out.”

— That’s it for tonight. The Cards have one final locker room availability tomorrow morning, then a meeting, then Whisenhunt will meet the media. Then an offseason of overhaul.

I’ll cover it all, so stay tuned.

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Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2010 – 4:01 pm

No reason to draw this edition of “Friday before” out. It’s New Year’s Eve, you’re all waiting to bring in a new year tonight and I’m in the same boat. I suppose if this game was to crown the division champ that’d be something else, but it’s not.

As for the importance of winning this game in particular, well, I’ll let coach Ken Whisenhunt speak for the team.

“Some people want us to do bad so we will do better in the draft — I don’t know,” Whisenhunt said. “I think for a football team, for us, it’s important you finish well. That’s something we have made strides in doing. Just like in the ’07 season propelled us into the offseason, and the next year we went to the playoffs.

“I’m not saying that going to the playoffs or having a great season is tied into how we play this game. But I think there’s no question, winning the game against Dallas has been tremendous for us, our young players, our organization to show right mindset what we have to do it week in and week out.”

— The fact the 49ers are willing to start Alex Smith this week means to me that offensive coordinator Mike Johnson is calling the shots on that side of the ball. Smith was always the guy Johnson leaned toward to execute the offense he wanted to put out there after he replaced Jimmy Raye.

— Who said it: “It makes it difficult when you’re changing quarterbacks because you have to build that chemistry with your quarterback. You want to know the guy you’re going to be up with because at the end of the day, you’re going to have to be on the same page.”

Steve Breaston? Larry Fitzgerald? Try 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Once again, underscoring the issues any team has when it doesn’t really know about its most important position.

— One final QB note for this game. Amazingly, the Cards-49ers meetings still can’t get a matching quarterback battle. Since the teams joined the same division in 2002, the last time both teams had the same quarterback start in both games during the season was 2003 (Blake v Garcia). This year, neither team can pull it off (Anderson v Troy Smith a month ago, Skelton v Alex Smith this Sunday).

— Now is when we talk possible retirements after the season. Safety Kerry Rhodes tweeted a strong hint today that defensive lineman Bryan Robinson will be done after the season, although B-Rob later told Kent Somers he hasn’t made a final decision yet. Guard Alan Faneca is mulling the end too and it’s something a lot of players pause to consider (although usually only briefly) as a rough season ends.

— Since the last three Cards-49ers games have been basically lousy, I’m hoping for something better Sunday. The 49ers beat up the Cards the last two games and that 2009 season opener – a SF win – was a testament to uneven opening-game play.

— With star linebacker Patrick Willis out, the Cards should benefit. Willis has been a pain to the Cards. Maybe Beanie and/or Hightower can go off.

— After failing to target Breaston and only throwing towards Fitzgerald three times last week, I expect John Skelton to switch that up. And frankly, I think that’s important for the Cards and both players. I don’t think Fitz can make two TD catches to avoid his career-low, but maybe he can get his first since Kansas City Nov. 21. He’s not going to get the 18 catches he needs to equal last years’ 97, but he can get 80 more yards to match his 2009 yardage total.

— It’s been a long year for everyone around the Cards. “I think we found our identity,” Faneca said, and then paused to consider. “It just didn’t translate.”

Unfortunately, no. Talk to you in San Francisco. Happy New Year everyone.

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