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Lacking sacks, Cards blitz for “distruptions”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2014 – 10:17 am

The Cardinals looked hard for a pass rusher prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Nothing materialized. That’s really not surprising. In this league — especially when a team can flip into a playoff contender in one offseason — you just don’t trade decent pass rushers. You need them too much. And if you are willing to trade, you’re probably asking for more than they are worth, because they are at a premium, and a team like the Cardinals can’t just shred their draft options for that.

(Now, if Justin Houston was being offered for a first-round pick, yes, I make that move. I’d think GM Steve Keim would too. But the Justin Houstons of the world aren’t being offered.)

That leaves the Cardinals wanting on the pass rush. Yes, I’d think that will be the top target of the offseason, whether it is through free agency or the draft (or even both.) But the offseason is the offseason. That doesn’t help now.

The Cardinals have only seven sacks in seven games, and two of those are from defensive backs and one is from an inside linebacker. It’s no secret the Cards are blitz-happy out of necessity. It’s the only way they can generate consistent pressure, and it’s been a Todd Bowles staple, with the Cards blitzing about half the time. Would more sacks be welcome? Of course. But Bruce Arians sounds OK with the results so far. The last play Sunday is a great example. The Cardinals brought the blitz. They couldn’t sack Nick Foles — they couldn’t sack him all day, through 62 pass attempts — but it was the heavy pressure up the middle that forced Foles to backpedal and throw off his back foot. Jordan Matthews had been open in the back of the end zone, but the bad throw under pressure gave safety Rashad Johnson just enough time to recover and make sure the pass wasn’t completed.

“The thing we want to do defensively is be disruptive,” Arians said. “I thought we were disruptive (against Philadelphia). We created turnovers. Yardage doesn’t really matter. We want to lead the league in points (allowed) and we want to lead the league in sacks and turnovers. Sacks are the one thing that are obviously down, but there are disruptions there.”

At this time last year, the Cardinals had 19 sacks, en route to 47 on the season. A big part of that was John Abraham’s 11.5, and obviously losing Abraham — when the team had been counting on him to create some of those sacks — has left a mark. It was interesting to see that Marcus Benard is part of the outside linebacker rotation to create pressure, when Benard was one of the guys originally cut to add outside linebacker Thomas Keiser, who has mostly been inactive. Getting Calais Campbell back on the field will help, but it is, as Keim has said, beating a dead horse when talking about the Cardinals and creating/finding more of a pass rush.

The snap breakdown for the defensive line/outside linebackers against the Eagles, on 92 defensive snaps (92 – yikes!): Okafor 69, Acho 65, Campbell 62, Kelly 62, Stinson 51, Rucker 31, Dan Williams 18, Benard 16, Martin 10.

 

PressureBlogUSE


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Keim: Peterson protocol, and a Coop chance

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2014 – 8:13 am

There isn’t much new to report on cornerback Patrick Peterson this morning, but General Manager Steve Keim said during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that Peterson was “in good spirits” as he left the stadium last night and will go through the concussion protocol before he can return to the field. “It’s not different than Drew Stanton’s (situation),” Keim said, referring to when Stanton suffered a concussion earlier this season. Stanton eventually was able to pass his concussion tests and was active the following week, although Carson Palmer was back by then and Stanton didn’t have to play. You figure if Peterson is active, he’s going to play a lot, so we’ll see how he reacts to the tests and the exertion he would have to give. Every concussion is serious, but every one is also different, and there’s no way to know right now how this will affect Peterson.

– The other “news” from Keim: Keim said Bruce Arians and the coaches have been praising how well guard Jonathan Cooper has been looking in practice and how he is beginning to look like the guy everyone in the organization was so high on last year before Cooper broke his leg.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next couple of weeks we try to work him back in there,” Keim said. “I know he was in there a little bit (Sunday) on some short-yardage stuff and some unbalanced, but he continues to improve and we certainly have not lost any faith in him.”

Keim was asked to define what he meant to work Cooper in. “Little bit of guard, and it’s been no secret Paul Fanaika has been banged up a little bit and when you have a player with Coop’s ability, you have to try and get him some snaps sooner rather than later.”

– Keim said he could’ve given a game ball to a bunch of different players, not surprising the way it turned out. “It was nice to see Larry (Fitzgerald) have such a good game,” Keim said, and agreed that veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly has been a major addition. “Sometimes you worry about the amount of snaps he’s playing, but he has been a breath of fresh air,” Keim said.


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Extending Palmer and the 2015 offseason

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2014 – 10:21 am

It comes as no surprise that the Cardinals want to extend quarterback Carson Palmer. GM Steve Keim said he has had initial discussions with Palmer’s agent, and given the landscape, keeping Palmer around makes sense for both sides. For Palmer, who will turn 35 in December, he has found a comfort — and success — working in Bruce Arians’ system. Considering there probably aren’t many teams that are going to want to bring in a 35-year-old QB, at least not believing in him at the level the Cardinals do, Palmer wanting to remain is only logical.

The Cardinals have a quarterback who works for them, not only passing the ball but as a leader, a guy who easily was voted captain by his teammates. Palmer stands tall in that locker room, and it has nothing to do with his 6-foot-5 frame but the way he carries himself and plays off every guy in there. At some point, the Cardinals will have to find their long-term QB answer, and maybe it’s Logan Thomas and maybe Keim sees the franchise QB sitting there late in the first round this coming April, but there are no certainties and having Palmer in place is almost obvious for the team too.

The shoulder nerve issue probably threw a wrench into things somewhat. You have to believe Palmer will stay healthy. But assuming that, this should work. If it makes so much sense for both sides, it almost has to, right?

But that also leads into this incredibly interesting offseason to come for Keim. Last year, he said the 2015 season was really when the Cards would be in better shape in terms of the salary cap. You can only assume he was already taking into account the Larry Fitzgerald situation, and what he may or may not do with Darnell Dockett’s contract (a spot that’s gotten stickier now that Dockett, who turns 34 in May, will be coming off major knee surgery.)  That doesn’t include the scheduled free agents: Antonio Cromartie, Dan Williams, Sam Acho, Tommy Kelly, Larry Foote and Paul Fanaika among them.

If there is anything Keim has shown with a couple of offseasons under his belt, it’s that the Cardinals have a plan on how they spend. And going overboard isn’t part of it. There is a number the Cardinals have in mind they will want to give to any of these guys for 2015 — for a Fitz, for a Dan Williams. For a Palmer. Selling a chance to stay with a winner helps.

Of course, winning only happens when there is a QB in place. Palmer is that guy for the Cardinals. You want him to stick around.

PalmerCool1BLOG


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Arians “don’t sell no one no dreams”

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2014 – 1:51 pm

Veteran Tommy Kelly, about whom I will be writing a story about next week, was talking about his relationship with the Cardinals’ coaching staff. The big defensive tackle didn’t feel like he had the best communication with Patriots coach Bill Belichick down the stretch of his time there. It’s been a lot different for Kelly with Bruce Arians and company.

“People get much more out out of a veteran player if you’re just up front with them,” said Kelly, who came into the league in 2004. “(Arians) don’t sell no one no dreams.”

Maybe more than anything, that’s been the biggest thing Bruce Arians has brought to the Cardinals. He’s talked many times about his “Coach ‘em hard, hug ‘em later” philosophy, which includes more than a couple of curse words most practices but an ability to have that tension wash away as soon as the final horn for practice sounds. More importantly, Arians is across the board doesn’t lay the manure on when he talks to his players. Arians is blunt when meeting the media and he’s the same with his roster. “Players respect the truth,” Arians said, and sometimes, that means being brutally honest. His assistants do the same.

Yes, it can sting, I am sure. But there isn’t anyone on the Cards that can can claim they are in the dark about their role. I remember at one point last year — in the summer of 2013 — when a coach let Larry Fitzgerald know that sometimes, his job was to attract the defense so the ball could go elsewhere. That (among other things) was probably hard for Fitz to hear, but he knew where he stood. When Arians let the world know — presumably after he had let Cooper know — that Jonathan Cooper wasn’t playing the way the Cardinals hoped he would, that’s the message received.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the player is always going to be happy about hearing what he’s hearing. But as long as Arians isn’t selling any dreams, the truth works more than it hurts.

AriansTruth


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Niners aftermath, after a headbutt

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2014 – 7:37 pm

Tony Jefferson had himself a game Sunday. The safety lead the Cardinals with 10 tackles, he had the huge second-down sack of Colin Kaepernick on the 49ers’ last true chance to score and, of course, he absorbed the headbutt that changed the game.

Former Cardinal Anquan Boldin, who has been known to let his emotions get away from him on the field, got angry at Jefferson after catching a pass for a first down on the Cardinals’ 6-yard line with the Cards nursing a 20-14 lead. Boldin headbutted Jefferson, and the 15 yards eventually derailed the drive into a field goal attempt that was blocked by Cardinals’ defensive end Tommy Kelly. The 49ers never did score again.

“People give him (Boldin) so much respect out on the field, and I respect him as a player, but anybody who is going to jaw at me, I’m going to jaw back,” Jefferson said. “I’m all about the action. I’ll jaw. But I won’t retaliate like he did.”

But the play was more than that for the Cardinals. Boldin ranted after the game Jefferson had been delivering cheap blows and he was simply fed up. After the game, however, the Cardinals were talking about finally standing up to bully in the 49ers that had knocked them around in recent years.

“I think they are kind of used to us backing down once the game gets started,” Jefferson said. “But we were in their face. We were going after it. We let them know, this is a different team.”

It seems like a different team. It’s definitely an undefeated team, and one that has earned that distinction.

It was a big deal winning Sunday, not the least of which was with Drew Stanton behind center. Bruce Arians kept saying Stanton could get the job done, but he (rightfully) said Stanton had to show everyone else. He has. Stanton managed the game in New York. He won the game against the 49ers. B.A. clearly didn’t pull back the reins.

Stanton had a great press conference. He was happy, as he should be, and knows how to be funny. Someone asked him why he clicks with Arians. Stanton said he wasn’t sure. “To be honest with you, in Indianapolis, I didn’t even know if he liked me,” Stanton said.

I don’t think Drew needs to worry about that anymore.

- -That said, please don’t ask about a quarterback controversy. There isn’t one. When Palmer is ready, he’ll be back in there.

– As good as John “Smokey” Brown –and that’s what the Cards call him, Smoke or Smokey – was on his TD catches, the pass interference he drew on the game-clinching field goal drive was just as big a play. Without that, the Cardinals are punting with more than three minutes left.

“Once I got past five yards, (I knew) if he got hands on me, it was an automatic pass interference,” Brown said. “Drew made a great throw and (cornerback Chris Cook) did what I wanted him to do.”

– Brown said the gameplan all week was to feature him, thinking the 49ers would focus on Fitz and Floyd. Brown was asked, was that because the 49ers don’t really know who you are? Brown smiled. “No one knows me.”

– Stanton became the first Cardinals’ QB to not throw an interception and not be sacked since 2010. So once again, Stanton has a link back to 2010.

– You can’t go sackless, especially with as many deep throws as the Cardinals tried, without very good pass protection. Yes, the Niners are without guys like Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman, but this upgraded line is doing very well (including that parting of the Red Sea to spring Andre Ellington for that last 20-yard gain.)

– The Palmer/Stanton quarterbacked-Cards have yet to throw an interception this season.

– Amazing. On Tommy Kelly’s blocked field goal for the Cards, the Cardinals only had nine men on the field.

– It was with a lot less in-game attention as the Cardinals rallied, but Larry Fitzgerald didn’t get his first catch Sunday until the fourth quarter again. Then it looked like he’d be the key factor in the game-clinching drive – and then he fumbled the ball at the San Francisco 5. It was shades of last year’s lost fumble in San Francisco that short-circuited a possible go-ahead drive. This time, the Cardinals weathered the turnover. I’m not sure Fitz talked to anyone after – I know I didn’t get a chance to see him – but I’m sure he breathed a sigh of relief the turnover turned out not to matter.

– Michael Floyd, two long (39 and 45 yards) catches among his 5-for-114 day. That’s two 100-yard games in three weeks.

– Is there a better defensive coordinator in the league at making halftime adjustments than Todd Bowles?

– I’m not sure how the defense went from being unsure how to handle Colin Kaepernick to shutting him down. This defense just keeps making it work. Losing Antonio Cromartie with a knee injury could have been a blow, but Bowles was already going to use Justin Bethel in this game. That’s foresight. I thought Patrick Peterson played pretty well too. The Cards started getting to Kaepernick with pressure, but the coverage was a big part of that.

So the Cards head into the bye. A short week of practice, needed time off and a 3-0 record. Can’t complain.

TJeffBlog


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Adrian Wilson visits practice

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2014 – 1:39 pm

Before anyone takes this out of context, when veteran safety and ex-Cardinal Adrian Wilson came to visit practice today, it was just that — a visit. It wasn’t a tryout. Wilson wasn’t working out for General Manager Steve Keim but conversing with him, wearing — as A-Dub often does — a trendy outfit and carrying what looked to be a notebook and pen. He and Keim go way back, with both North Carolina State products and Keim the one who scouted Wilson and pushed for his selection in the 2001 draft.

I only got to talk to Wilson briefly, and he said he was doing well. There was no talk of football per se, or his recent release by the Bears. He, as you can see in the picture below, still very much looks the part. (One young Cardinal saw him from afar and noted, “I thought he’d look older than he does.” Take it as a compliment, Adrian.)

I’m not sure of the drop-by, but it isn’t surprising. Someday, Wilson will be going into the team’s Ring of Honor. That’s been known since it was put in the official press release the day Wilson was released. I am one of many who thinks that, whenever Wilson decides to retire, he could very well sign a one-day contract with the Cardinals to end it with this franchise. And I would not be surprised to see Wilson end up with some kind of role within the organization at some point. I think the organization thinks that much of Wilson, and I think Wilson thinks that much of this organization.

– The Cardinals had a another mini-practice Wednesday. With a Monday game, the real “week” of practice starts Thursday, with pads and hitting. That’s the day safety Tyrann Mathieu will give hitting a try.

– Arians said new defensive lineman Tommy Kelly is picking up the defense just fine — “Defensive line, the playbook isn’t real deep,” Arians quipped — and it looks like Kelly should slide in just fine into the defensive rotation.

DubBubbleblog


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Chargers (and preseason) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2014 – 11:52 pm

We’ll try not to get too verbose here. It’s late and in a matter of hours, the Cardinals are going to at least begin the process of making the final cuts to the 53-man roster. I’m just thrilled to have a computer to type this on, after leaving it in the taxi and watching it drive away before the game. But that turned out OK — obviously I got it back — and maybe it’s good the preseason is over for me as well.

Bruce Arians rarely pulls punches. He didn’t tonight saying some of the play was “disturbing” and that it will make some of the roster choices easy. We’ll see how it filters out. I don’t know if injuries will affect anything. Safety Eddie Whitley, with a potential broken foot, wasn’t going to make the team. Safety Curtis Taylor, who may have broken his arm, was trying to make a push, especially with the iffy status of Tyrann Mathieu. That option is now gone. Nate Potter was trying to make the team as a backup tackle — maybe, just maybe, the Cards would keep an extra two tackles — but hurt his shoulder. (I don’t know how Bradley Sowell did either; it’ll be interesting to see if Max Starks is ever brought back like Arians said he might be.)

I expect some cuts Friday, some Saturday. And then we’ll see what else comes in the form of waiver claims, maybe another signing. We have a long 10 days before the opener.

– The big mystery was whether Tyrann Mathieu would play. He did not, and yes, if you take Arians’ word for it, he won’t play in the opener. I’m beginning to think that’s not just lip service. Look, Arians can change his mind, but it’s feeling more and more like the Cardinals are going to handle this with kid gloves. And really, why not? Here’s the interesting question — does Mathieu come back after the bye (three games into the season), like Arians always thought he would?

– No way to know how they looked at the battles for spots. Undrafted linebacker Glenn Carson played well with 10 tackles and could’ve (should’ve?) had a leaping interception late in the game. That would have looked good on the résumé. You can’t help but notice the kid out there. Can he edge out a vet like Desmond Bishop? Carson said he’s done all he can do — “It’s in the hands of the coaches now,” he said — but he’s made a nice case. Practice squad certainly.

– Felt the same about Walt Powell. He looked good on kickoff returns and made a nice move after a catch to avoid tacklers and get a first down. Brittan Golden dropped a deep ball. One play does not a roster spot make, but if it’s close, you have to wonder (although Golden did make a nice play to open the second half and force a fumble on a San Diego kickoff return.)

– I agree with linebacker Kevin Minter that he looked OK. At least he was back on the field. Jonathan Cooper looked a little more shaky, but in his case, Ted Larsen is starting for the time being anyway. It’s going to take some time for Cooper, clearly. That’s just reality.

– Love the way Deone Bucannon hits. That is a physical aspect the Cards need in the secondary, their answer to Kam Chancellor. He got lost in tight end coverage once though, losing his man as he stared too long in the backfield. Got to be careful on that.

– The way Arians sounded talking about Tommy Kelly’s 15 or so plays, I got the impression he’s got a good chance to make the roster. Isaac Sopoaga, who had been battling an oblique strain, didn’t play. Will be interesting to see how the defensive line plays out.

OK, that’s a wrap. We’ll have some news tomorrow. I don’t know how headline-grabbing it will be, but the next two days will go a long way in shaping the roster for the season.

Bruce Arians


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One guess at the 53

Posted by Darren Urban on August 27, 2014 – 4:25 pm

The Cardinals have 75 on the roster now. By Saturday at 1 p.m. Arizona time, they must be down to 53. As always, we have a caveat whenever talking about that initial 53-man roster. I would be surprised if the Cardinals don’t claim at least one guy from waivers. Veterans don’t have guaranteed contracts if they are not on the Week 1 roster, so sometimes that’s a factor. If anything, GM Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians have shown many times the roster is a living, breathing thing subject to change at any and all times. That was apparent again today when the team signed Tommy Kelly, and news broke veteran James Harrison was going to visit. I can’t see Kelly signing and then being cut Saturday, but you never know.

Plus, the final preseason game can have some bearing on a couple of roster spots (Arians said it’d be about five.) And that doesn’t even include any potential injuries that could affect a guy who was going to make the team.

All that must be taken into account as I make my prediction at the 53-man roster (assuming no waiver claims, which I have already assumed will happen, so …):

QB (3): Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas. Ryan Lindley getting cut made this obvious, although it had been obvious for a while.

RB (4): Andre Ellington, Jonathan Dwyer, Stepfan Taylor, Robert Hughes. Jalen Parmele has been good on special teams, but I don’t see it. I could see the Cardinals searching for a back with some speed for the practice squad.

WR (6): Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, Jaron Brown, Ted Ginn, Walt Powell. Powell has played well enough that I don’t think they can sneak him on to the practice squad. I thought Brittan Golden had a pretty good camp too. He is practice-squad eligible, though.

TE (4): John Carlson, Rob Housler, Troy Niklas, Darren Fells. I could see Andre Hardy sticking on the practice squad too.

OL (8): Jared Veldheer, Ted Larsen, Lyle Sendlein, Paul Fanaika, Bobby Massie, Jonathan Cooper, Bradley Sowell, Earl Watford. This one is a tough one and the play of Sowell and Nate Potter in the finale could go a long way in making a decision on the backup tackle. I am also guessing that Watford, despite not being able to take hold of an available starting job for two straight years, gets another year. This is also one of those spots I’d think is vulnerable to a waiver claim.

DL (7): Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Frostee Rucker, Kareem Martin, Ed Stinson, Alameda Ta’amu, Tommy Kelly. This is one of those places that is tenuous. Kelly’s addition — he is with the team in San Diego, so does he play tomorrow? — adds another intriguing question. I’d guess a final spot will go to either him or Isaac Sopoaga. Can rookie Bruce Gaston make a push or is he practice-squad bound? The Cards are still seeking depth here, wherever they can find it.

OLB (5): Sam Acho, Matt Shaughnessy, John Abraham, Alex Okafor, Marcus Benard.
ILB (4): Kevin Minter, Larry Foote, Kenny Demens, Lorenzo Alexander. These two spots need to be seen in total, and nowhere else was more difficult to sort through. Alexander, I think, is one of those guys who survives because of his special teams work. Marcus Benard has pass-rushing skills that this team could use, but obviously, this leaves Desmond Bishop out. I’d think Thursday night’s game will be important for him. (UDFA Glenn Carson would be a practice-squad candidate). One thing I can’t get out of my head is Arians talking about keeping players at positions that are hard to replace if injuries hit. The Cards may want to stay deep at linebacker given the injury situation. None of this allows for a signing of James Harrison, of course, if that were to happen. This is the position I am least sure about.

CB (5): Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Bryan McCann. I would think the final spot comes down to McCann or Teddy Williams. Williams seemed like a lock to me with his size and special teams ability, but McCann is pretty good on special teams too and Williams has had his ups and downs as a cornerback. Thursday night would seem to be a big game for both.

S (4): Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Deone Bucannon, Tyrann Mathieu. This is assuming Mathieu is close to contributing soon, but even if he isn’t, the Cardinals have a nice trio as Bucannon grows into this role.

Specialists (3): K Chandler Catanzaro, P Dave Zastudil, LS Mike Leach. Pretty straightforward. The Cardinals haven’t come out and said Catanzaro is guaranteed to stick around all season, but I’d think he’ll have his shot to prove himself in games that count.

53blogUSE

 


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Short practice and successful Dockett surgery

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2014 – 2:21 pm

The short practice week got even shorter Tuesday when coach Bruce Arians,citing the humidity during the outside workout, ended practice about 40 minutes early. Arians also noted how few players he had practicing, which goes more toward the players who won’t be playing Thursday rather than too many injuries. In fact, Arians said there was no change on that front. He did say he broke out the two fields of work for the first time since OTAs, allowing some of the starters who don’t figure to play to get some skeleton work done while the rest of the team prepped for the Chargers, Part I.

– Arians’ update on the players who have been injured: LB Kevin Minter is ready to play. NT Alameda Ta’amu looks like he will play, as does guard Jonathan Cooper. S Tyrann Mathieu remains day-to-day and a game-day decision Thursday. As promised, Mathieu’s playing status will be mostly up to him and how he feels about playing. If those guys play, Arians figures it will be about 20 to 25 plays.

– The surgery for DT Darnell Dockett went well, Arians said. Dockett remains in Alabama, where Dr. James Andrews did the work, and will be there abut five days, Arians said. It was a “clean” ACL injury — no ancillary damage — and Arians said Dockett was doing well after trading texts. “He is in really good spirits, anxious to get back,” Arians said.

Arians’ plan to have Dockett on the sidelines for games echoes his 2012 season in Indianapolis, when he also had a player injured for the season in November who still was on the sideline every game and traveled with the team. That guy? Cornerback Jerraud Powers, now a Cardinal.

– Arians did not specify who the Cardinals were having in for a tryout Tuesday (although it’s been reported that it will be defensive lineman Tommy Kelly) but he acknowledged there would be one. That workout had not happened yet, Arians said, because of “flight problems.” It was expected to take place later in the day.

– Interesting to see the Seahawks have lost two minicamp practices in 2015 for violating the CBA with their 2014 offseason work.


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Kolb responds to Kelly’s comments

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2012 – 11:13 am

The comments by Raiders defensive end Tommy Kelly criticizing Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb came out after Kolb had left the stadium last night. (Kelly, among other things, said Kolb was “scared.”)

When I contacted Kolb this morning on the subject, he welcomed the chance to respond.

“Scared? Scared of what?” Kolb said. “Taking a hit? I have never been afraid of anyone on the field and that will never change. That includes Number 93 (Kelly). There’s a fine line between holding in the pocket and trying to escape to make a play. Tommy Kelly is too clueless to know the difference. I don’t mind people criticizing my play. Don’t ever question my toughness.”


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