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.
Tags: Beanie Wells, draft, Jason Wright, Ken Whisenhunt, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Ryan Williams, Tim Hightower
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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.
Tags: Beanie Wells, draft, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Ryan Williams, Tim Hightower
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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.
Tags: Clark Haggans, John Skelton, labor, Larry Fitzgerald, Leonard Davis, Lyle Sendlein, Max Hall, Rex Hadnot, Tim Hightower
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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.
Tags: Alan Branch, Ben Patrick, Brandon Keith, Deuce Lutui, Early Doucet, Gabe Watson, Lyle Sendlein, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower
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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*
Tags: Alan Branch, Alan Faneca, Ben Claxton, Ben Graham, Ben Patrick, Brandon Keith, Bryan Robinson, Curtis Gatewood, Cyril Obiozor, D'Anthony Batiste, Deuce Lutui, Early Doucet, free agency, Gabe Watson, Hamza Abdullah, Jason Wright, Keilen Dykes, Kenny Iwebema, Lyle Sendlein, Matt Ware, Max Komar, Michael Adams, Nehemiah Broughton, Reagan Maui'a, Reggie Walker, Stephen Spach, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower, Trumaine McBride
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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.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Jay Feely, John Skelton, Kerry Rhodes, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower
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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.
Tags: 49ers, Alan Faneca, DRC, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Bidwill, Stephen Spach, Tim Hightower
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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.
Tags: 49ers, Alan Faneca, Beanie Wells, Bryan Robinson, Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Ken Whisenhunt, Kerry Rhodes, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Willis, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower
Posted in Blog | 47 Comments »
And then it was over.
The Cardinals came off the practice field for the final time Friday. “I’m too cold to have any emotion,” coach Ken Whisenhunt quipped.
“There is disappointment,” Whisenhunt added. “It’s the last one, and I enjoy our guys. One of the best things about being a coach is being able to spend time with the guys on the field. Knowing that is coming to an end is always hard. We didn’t have the greatest of years.”
– It looks like linebacker Joey Porter will not be playing again for the Cards this season. He is doubtful for Sunday with his triceps injury and didn’t practice again (and his long-term status with the team going into next year is probably in doubt too, but that’s discussion for another day). The other three injured players: running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring), tight end Ben Patrick (hamstring) and linebacker Clark Haggans (groin) are all questionable after being limited again.
– The Arizona chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association handed out its awards Friday. There are two: The Lloyd Herberg MVP award, and the Steve Schoenfeld “Good Guy” award, for the player deemed best for the media. Safety Kerry Rhodes received the MVP award, while running back Tim Hightower got the Good Guy honor. The Cards have a bunch of guys who are good with the media, but not only is Hightower thoughtful in his answers and manages to avoid too many cliches, but he also has been there all year no matter what — even through the losing, and even when he had to talk about his fumbling problems (which obviously was more than once).
The awards are sponsored by Oregano’s Pizza Bistros. Herberg was the original Arizona Republic beat writer covering the Cards before he lost his life to cancer. Schoenfeld was the long-time Republic Cards and NFL writer who was working for cbssports.com when he was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Tempe. (From left to right, XTRA’s Mike Jurecki, Hightower, Rhodes and the Republic’s Kent Somers).
Tags: Ben Patrick, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Ken Whisenhunt, Kerry Rhodes, LaRod Stephens-Howling, PFWA, Tim Hightower
Posted in Blog | 15 Comments »
I knew Fitz didn’t look right.
As I noted late Saturday night (Sunday morning) while writing my “aftermath” and watching the tape of the just completed Cards-Cowboys game, it looked like Larry Fitzgerald had taken a head shot (maybe helmet-to-helmet) on the first down play of that last drive. Originally, I thought Fitz had made a catch, but he dropped it, and the video showed him shaking his head and blinking his eyes after the hit. Turns out, Fitz indeed felt it.
“I don’t remember much from the end of the game, to be honest with you,” Fitzgerald said. “I took a shot and I was a little bit out of it.”
(Side comment in today’s concussion-concerned NFL: Yikes.)
Fitz never came out of the game. I’m guessing he never said anything. A couple plays later, rookie Andre Roberts was the one telling Fitz where to go on fourth-and-15, one of the most important plays of the Cardinals’ season.
“I knew I had to run up the seam and I saw the ball and I just tried to make a play,” Fitzgerald said, breaking into a chuckle. “That’s pretty much all I remember, honestly.”
Quarterback John Skelton just remembered the fourth-down play as “do or die.” “It’s really your last chance … but we had a good play dialed up. Larry found a soft spot (in the zone coverage) and I think that one completion got the ball rolling for the rest of the drive.”
Indeed, the Cards moved the ball every play after that (save for two spikes to stop the clock). After the Cowboys had clamped down the first three plays, Skelton hit Fitz, scrambled for five yards, tossed a six-yard completion to Tim Hightower and after a spike, maybe made the most impressive throw of the drive, a laser off his back foot on the move under pressure to fellow rookie Max Komar for 19 yards.
But it started with fourth down.
“We shouldn’t have gotten to fourth-and-15,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “That’s the first thing.
“It’s a tough situation, just about as tough a situation as you can be in. Having the lead the whole game, losing it, and then all of a sudden you’re at fourth-and-15 and you know if you don’t convert the game is over. To be able to move up in the pocket, make the throw, put it where he had to put it … it’s a good sign.”
Tags: Cowboys, John Skelton, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Max Komar, Tim Hightower
Posted in Blog | 28 Comments »