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After practice: Nkemdiche as teaching tool

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2017 – 4:51 pm

There is a flip side to teaching Robert Nkemdiche, who, make no mistake, is still trying to learn how to play his position on the defensive line. Every day, you can see Nkemdiche’s power and athleticism and effort as he tries to bury his disappointing rookie season, but in technique and discipline (making sure he doesn’t jump offsides), he is still in-progress.

But the power/athleticism/effort also gives offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin a powerful tool when it comes to teaching his young players. Specifically, rookie fourth-round guard Dorian Johnson, who many times has been set up to face Nkemdiche. Before these matchups, Goodwin talks to Nkemdiche as much as Johnson, and given the intensity in which Nkemdiche attacks, it’s some serious on-the-job training.

The final one-on-one rep was a Nkemdiche win, pushing Johnson way back. Clearly Johnson isn’t ready to play this season, but this is how he gets better, and that Nkemdiche can help in the cause is an interesting turn, given where he was at as a player last season when he was a rookie.

— Left tackle D.J. Humphries was out working with the first unit most of practice for the first time since hurting his hamstring. “This whole situation kind of taught me to listen to my body a little bit, that you’re not in college anymore,” Humphries said. “It felt good today.”

— Wide receiver John Brown did look better at practice, making a handful of receptions in 11-on-11.

— Veteran receiver Jeremy Ross has picked up his play the last couple of days. And he looked like he was running ahead of J.J. Nelson Wednesday.

— Tight end Ifeanyi Momah made another nice reception and like previous camps, has proven himself as a receiver. They already like his special teams work. He should have a spot on the roster. He needs to continue to work on his blocking.

— LB Terrence Waugh left practice with some sort of leg injury.

— Earlier in the day, Bruce Arians noted that the best down-the-depth-chart receiver had been “‘Little Smoke” Chris Hubert. “He’s been wide-ass open,” Arians said. “We just haven’t hit him.” Early in practice, Hubert ran a nice route to the right sideline of the end zone, and he was wide open. Blaine Gabbert’s pass was too wide, however.

— Patrick Peterson made a nice interception, running the route ahead of wide receiver Jaron Brown. Safety Harlan Miller also had a pick. Rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, back from an ankle issue, had an impressive diving TD catch.

— The first-team offense ran a quick screen to Jaron Brown. Tyrann Mathieu smelled it out and would have made a quick line-of-scrimmage tackle, if, you know, they were actually tackling. “C’mon dog, you gotta set it up better than that!” Mathieu yelled. “Too easy! Too easy!”


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A quiet Arians is a scary Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 12:20 pm

J.J. Nelson mentioned Monday that while Bruce Arians had made it known he was not happy with the wide receivers, he was “saying it in a nice way.”

Yeah, well, that’s not a good thing.

“I was very nice about it,” Arians said Tuesday, very even-keeled while speaking on the subject. “I said (GM) Steve (Keim) is upstairs right now looking at tape for more new (receivers).”

That was probably a B.A.-mic drop moment. “I don’t really give a s*** what they think,” Arians said. “They were told real quietly and that scared them.”

It reminded me of my parents — and probably many parents. I know I’ve done it with my kids. Getting yelled at isn’t good, but when the tone gets quiet and perhaps a little more deliberate, something not so good is going down.

“If I’m hollering, I’m coaching ’em,” Arians said. “When I’m not hollering, it’s not a good thing.”

— Three receivers (coincidence? Probably not) are attempting to return to practice full today: John Brown (quad), Chad Williams (shin splints) and Aaron Dobson (hamstring). Tackle D.J. Humphries (hamstring) is going to try individual drills today, and Arians expects him back to practice later this week and to be able to play Saturday.


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After practice: Lethargic offense and a glove

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2017 – 6:31 pm

Well, it’s a different kind of “After practice” post here because, for the first time in camp, we had Bruce Arians commenting on an afternoon practice as soon as it was over. Usually Arians talks in the morning, or at the very least right before practice. But because of Roger Goodell’s appearance today, Arians was moved back. What ended up happening? Arians talked about how the Cardinals were “lethargic offensively.” He didn’t have great things to say about the wide receivers in particular, warning of potentially bringing in other pass catchers. But he wasn’t happy with other parts, some of the blocking and dropped passes by tight ends. He did say Carson Palmer — all the quarterbacks, actually — did well. They didn’t get any help.

One particular sequence, as the Cardinals practiced their coming-off-the-goal line on offense. Second unit was in, with Drew Stanton behind center. The ugly series went:
–No one really open, and when Stanton went to safety valve it to running back Kerwynn Williams, Williams wasn’t looking, apparently bothered by an ankle that he had looked at earlier in practice;
— Center Tony Bergstrom forgetting the snap count and snapping early, causing a fumble that Stanton needed to fall on;
— A false start by right tackle Ulrick John;
— A dropped pass by tight end Ifeanyi Momah.

That was kind of the vibe of the day.

— There were a couple of offensive highlights. During that same scenario with the first-unit offense, running back David Johnson busted up the middle and then veered left on a third-down draw play and the receivers all to one side, galloping to a 70-yard run or so. It was pretty. It also set up a nice 2-yard TD pass later from Palmer to Jaron Brown, who posted up cornerback Justin Bethel in the end zone.

— Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand. Arians said Palmer would have to say why, and I didn’t get a chance to ask. The last time Palmer had a glove on his hand, it was after getting a cut prior to the season finale in Los Angeles last year.

— At one point, offensive line coach Harold Goodwin had a conversation with rookie guard Dorian Johnson, who has taken some lumps in camp.

— Blaine Gabbert had a beautiful 45-yard-or-so deep ball to wide receiver Chris Hubert.

— Red-hot linebacker Josh Bynes had another practice interception.

— So did Tyrann Mathieu, who cut right in front of Larry Fitzgerald.


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After practice: No hanging heads, and TWill pick

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2017 – 5:10 pm

Early in practice Tuesday, J.J. Nelson dropped a touchdown pass from Carson Palmer in the red zone. The wide receiver was clearly bothered, and walked slowly behind the line of scrimmage where the extra players stood — the second unit’s turn had come up — with his head down. Immediately, Palmer found him. What was said is unknown, but the message was clear, especially when Palmer imitated Nelson’s hanging head: Keep your head up, Palmer was saying, because it’s on to the next play.

Indeed, the next time Nelson was on the field, he caught a pass and Palmer — who this time was not the QB — made sure to seek out Nelson for the congratulatory slap. It’s one of the underrated parts of Palmer’s game, the leadership in such situations.

— It was an eventful practice. The defense was into the battles given that the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense faced off. Linebacker Markus Golden, who loves to talk, was talking quite a bit when the defense was winning its plays.

— The Cardinals slid rookie safety Budda Baker into the first unit in their dime package. One time, both he and Tyrann Mathieu blitzed. Afterward, Baker talked about how much he loved to blitz — another parallel between he and Mathieu.

— Phil Dawson easily drilled a 58-yard field goal among his attempts (without a miss).

— This is how you cultivate a fan base. After the first unit got through part of one period — and Patrick Peterson knew he’d have a few minutes on the sideline — he sent an equipment intern to the sideline where a man and his two boys were sitting. All had Peterson jerseys. The intern fetched the jerseys and took them to Peterson, who quickly signed them all. It was such a brief moment, but the fans were thrilled.

— Interestingly, quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich got to call some offensive plays into the walkie-talkie during one period. It really shouldn’t be a surprise. Bruce Arians likes to groom his young coaches, and getting Leftwich a few reps in the middle of a practice is a good start. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin called the plays in the Hall of Fame game, and I’m guessing he’ll do at least one other game in the preseason.

— The practice ended with a special situation: Offense on the defense’s 8-yard line, 6 seconds left, third down. The first unit started with David Johnson drawing a pass interference in the end zone and then a fade to Larry Fitzgerald for a TD. The second unit was stopped when rookie Chad Williams couldn’t hang on to a pass at the goal line. The third unit scored on a laser from Blaine Gabbert to Carlton Agudosi.

— Newcomer Tramon Williams also got his first interception as a Cardinal, playing zone and jumping on a Drew Stanton pass. “Was able to kind of see the whole picture,” Williams said. “Read the quarterback and just kind of came off. I had a good jump on the ball.”


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If fewer preseason games, what about camp?

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2017 – 10:13 am

The conversation about having fewer than four preseason games for NFL teams (although the Hall of Fame game gave the Cardinals five this year) has been ongoing for a number of years. Commissioner Roger Goodell recently brought it up again. There are logistics to evaluate, whether it be three or two games. Obviously, fewer of them would hurt most the fringe guys trying to get themselves some decent tape so that if they were released by their current team someone else could see what they were worth.

But the other question is about training camp itself. Currently, teams are allowed to go to camp 15 days before their first preseason game. Would that still be the case if there were fewer games? Would they make it longer, with an extra long stretch of practice before the first game? (Vets would love that.) One way around things is to schedule more joint practices with other teams. That would provide some controlled scrimmage situations. The hope in the end is that there are less injuries, in a sport where injuries are inevitable.

But in an environment where coaches already lament less time to prepare their teams, how it plays out is something to watch.


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After practice: Better work before Canton

Posted by Darren Urban on August 1, 2017 – 11:42 am

Bruce Arians was much happier about Tuesday’s practice than he had been about Monday. “I knew they’d bounce back,” he said, and it was all but necessary with a game coming Thursday. For the first time in camp, Arians split the team to two fields, in order to ramp up the reps for the younger players that will be playing against the Cowboys.

Many vets, actually, will not play. Arians ruled out the starters (although we’ll see if that ends up being all of them; do you consider giving Evan Boehm a few reps at right guard, for instance?) as well as backup quarterback Drew Stanton and new cornerback Tramon Williams. Stanton doesn’t need more reps with four preseason games left, and Williams still needs to learn the playbook.

While things were better Tuesday, they weren’t perfect. At the end in particular, Arians said “some young guys” had trouble getting lined up correctly in a two-minute drill. There were a couple of guys who could’ve gotten out of bounds after catches who didn’t, and Arians ended practice upset on the last one.

“Run a  great route, fall down and catch it, don’t get up and get out of bounds,” Arians said. “There’s only nine seconds left those are things you hopefully learn from. Everyone else should learn from them also.”

The last two days have been about learning from B.A. “If you can’t learn it after I get after you, you’re in trouble anyway.”

— Injuries bit cornerback, and now they are biting inside linebacker. Karlos Dansby (knee) wasn’t going to play Thursday anyway, but he’s missed three straight practices. Arians isn’t concerned. But backup Gabe Martin is out for a while with an Achilles injury, and newcomer Phillip Wheeler is day-to-day with some unknown aliment. Arians would rather not play Haason Reddick a lot Thursday. Scooby Wright and Zaviar Gooden are in line to get a lot of playing time Thursday.

— On the good side, cornerback Justin Bethel returned — Arians Monday had said it’d be another week, but then again, Williams showed up — and Arians said “it was great to see him today. He was full speed.” Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is also doing more and more at practice.

— It’s been clear Tyrann Mathieu has been playing well as he rounds into Honey Badger shape, but he had a couple more interceptions during drills Tuesday. A high-level Mathieu is always fun to watch.

— Veteran kicker Phil Dawson was kicking at narrow practice goalposts at the outset of practice. No, there was no snap or rush. But Dawson nailed 60- and 63-yard field goals within the thin opening. It was impressive.


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After practice: Rough, but just a practice

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2017 – 4:31 pm

There isn’t as much to say about practice today. One, the main story has already been covered well by Kyle right here. Two, you aren’t going to get much detail about who did what — well or not well — because the back half of the outside practices are shut off from reporting. (Bruce Arians brought up the conditioning, so that became fair game). It was a physical practice, and if anyone is wondering if Arians was going to be true to his word about making this camp harder than last year’s, do not fret. He is doing just that.

As upset as Arians was, though, it wasn’t the end of the world.

“It’s just a practice,” he said. “We didn’t play anybody. We just failed to handle the heat and the time.”

— The young guys had their issues — you know, the young guys who are going to be playing the majority of Thursday’s game. Arians was asked how the team was positioned for the Hall of Fame matchup against the Cowboys. “If today’s practice was any indication, it’s going to be a fire drill.”

— I can say that Tyrann Mathieu looked good yet again. Arians said he thought it was the first time Mathieu looked totally healthy.

— The last (and only) other time the Cardinals were made to run at practice? Arians said it was his first season, but it was actually his second.

— Arians was asked about running back Elijhaa Penny’s performance Saturday. “Really good. Moved the pile, caught the ball well. He’s been having a good camp, and if he gets hurt, it’s your ass.”

That drew laughs, after what happened Saturday with Ronald Zamort. So Kent Somers asked the only thing he could: Should we just ask you about guys on other teams?

“That’d be good,” Arians said, breaking into a big smile. “Really good.”

— LB Alani Fua was waived-injured with his knee. He’ll likely revert back to injured reserve, so in theory — depending on how long it takes him to get healthy — he’d be a candidate to return this season. Remember, two IR guys can come back now after the new rule was put in. That said, Fua has had a lot of injuries in his short career. It’s tough not to remember something Dave McGinnis used to say a lot: Availability is as important as ability.


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Corners wrecked by injuries again

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2017 – 10:47 am

Sometimes, especially in training camp, it seems like a rash of injuries stays concentrated to a certain position. It’s got no empirical evidence to back it up, but Bruce Arians has alluded to it. Back in 2015, it was the running backs. Now, for a second straight season, it’s cornerback.

Yes, Justin Bethel should only be out a few days after hyperextending his knee. And the ankle issue for Elie Bouka isn’t supposed to be long-term. But the Cardinals already released Jumal Rolle with an injury settlement after Rolle couldn’t get straight with his hamstring, and now it seems Ronald Zamort — who had slid into Bethel’s first-team role while Bethel sat out — has torn his ACL and would be lost for the season.

It is reminiscent of last season, when the Cards had a bunch of cornerbacks get hurt. It started when Bethel, who was supposed to be the starter, broke his foot again in the offseason, needed surgery and never could get quite right. The Cardinals signed veteran Mike Jenkins, who tore his ACL. They signed veteran Alan Ball, who received an injury settlement after hurting his quadriceps muscle. Bouka ended up on IR after a hamstring issue.

UPDATE: The Cardinals are signing CB Tramon Williams.

It would make sense that the team sign someone sooner rather than later. Right now, the healthy cornerbacks on the roster are Patrick Peterson, Brandon Williams, and undrafted rookies Sojourn Shelton, Gump Hayes and Ryan Lewis. One plus: safety Harlan Miller has gotten a lot of reps at cornerback. Rookie safety Rudy Ford can also play there.

The Cardinals recently worked out veteran cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Tramon Williams.


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John Brown to miss some days

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2017 – 12:53 pm

OK, so John Brown had a really good practice Thursday. But it came at a cost. Smoke strained a quadriceps muscle late in practice, and he’ll miss a few days — maybe up to a week. Not ideal, not after his injury issues, but coach Bruce Arians said it had nothing to do with the previous health problems and you hope it’s a few days off and then over. As Arians said today, this time in camp is all bonus time anyway because of the extra game (and I didn’t expect Brown to play much in the Hall of Fame game anyway.)

— The news for fellow WR Aaron Dobson is a little worse. His hamstring will keep him out longer than a week, Arians said.

— S Ironhead Gallon (knee) will return to practice on a limited basis today.

— T Jared Veldheer is back today after Arians gave him a personal day Thursday.

— Nothing new from Arians on the possibility of signing a cornerback. That’s Steve Keim’s department. CB Tramon Williams did work out for the team prior to Thursday’s practice, and we already know CB Brandon Flowers passed a physical too. I’m guessing this is about the contract to get someone in here at this point. “Hopefully,” Arians said. “I just look at them and say, ‘I like him.’ ”

— Arians on the work for Saturday’s Red-White practice: “There will be some live scrimmage we have not had in the past.”


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Resting Palmer again and Buc’s status

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2017 – 12:10 pm

If there was any doubt about how careful the Cardinals were going to be with QB Carson Palmer this camp in an attempt to have him ready for the regular season, he will be resting at Thursday’s practice, the second time he’s sat out through a mere five practices thus far.

“I like practice,” Palmer said. “I enjoy what I do in the practice aspect. I like throwing in blitz period and team period and 7-on-7 and routes on air. But I’m listening to the professionals, the people that have studied this and read and been to seminars. I’m going with the recovery process and what people tell me to do.”

Again, it’s important to remember that the Cardinals have an extra stretch of camp this year because of the fifth preseason game, so this is all bonus practice anyway, especially for a veteran like Palmer. It’s smart to slow-play it like this if he needs to protect his arm.

— Arians said $LB Deone Bucannon, on PUP with his ankle, is doing some running. No timetable for a return, but Arians said he’d want Bucannon to have at least a week if not more of practice before playing in the opener. We’ll see if Bucannon ends up hitting that target.

— The good news was no one got hurt at Tuesday’s practice. S Ironhead Gallon (knee) and LB Jarvis Jones (NFI-quad) are close to returning — Jones could practice Friday, Arians said. LB Alani Fua (knee) is going to miss 2-to-4 weeks, Arians said.


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