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Bethel to start, McCain visits

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2017 – 1:00 pm

It comes as no surprise by now, but the battle for the No. 2 cornerback spot never really ended up much of a battle. Justin Bethel was the leading candidate coming into camp and no one ever really came close. Coach Bruce Arians officially said Bethel was the starter opposite Patrick Peterson.

“He’s earned that job,” Arians said.

“I’m as pleased with the corner position as I am with just about any position on the team right now,” Arians added.

Brandon Williams and Tramon Williams will be the No. 3 and No. 4 corners. It’s likely that those are the only four cornerbacks the Cardinals keep on the 53-man roster, given an abundance of safeties.

— The penultimate Cardinals training camp practice featured a visit from the governor. The final one Thursday featured a U.S. senator. Huge Cardinals fan John McCain stopped by during the workout, chatting with team president Michael Bidwill, General Manager Steve Keim and scout Adrian Wilson for a bit before coming down to the field and getting a couple of minutes to talk to Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer and then David Johnson.

“It was cool,” Johnson said. “We just got to talking about Iowa, bringing up the old memories. The Iowa state fair where everything’s fried, fried twinkies and stuff.”

Tackle D.J. Humphries joked that McCain wanted to talk to the wrong D.J.

“I don’t think I’m cool enough,” Humphries said. “That’s all it is. There’s a hierarchy when it comes to cool guys, and I don’t think I’ve met that level of expectancy to be ‘Cool Guy’ yet. Maybe next year I’ll give it a shot. I’ll try harder next year.”

— The receivers rallied in camp after Arians said they needed to pick up their game. One player in particular was J.J. Nelson, Arians said, adding that Nelson will be a captain Saturday night.

— Arians said the Cardinals, who return to their Tempe facility next week, will be practicing earlier in the morning to prep for the early morning kickoffs as the regular season begins. Both the first two games, at Detroit and at Indianapolis, will kick off at 10 a.m. Arizona time.

 


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After practice: The Governor visits

Posted by Darren Urban on August 23, 2017 – 4:49 pm

It was the last regular schedule day at #CardsCamp Wednesday (as well as the last open practice.) There is a morning practice closed to the public Thursday, and then training camp is (mercifully) over. Last year, the last regular practice had visitors — the Phoenix Suns. This year, there was also a special visit — Govenor Doug Ducey, who arrived with team president Michael Bidwill and talked with Bidwill through the length of the workout.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald actually left practice at one point (the setup of practice left the starting offense and the starting defense on the sideline for extended period of time while the other side of the ball worked) to say hello to Ducey and to threaten to give Bidwill a hug despite being sweaty as hell by that point. (That, like tackling, is a favorite thing for Fitz. I speak from experience.) Later in the practice, Fitzgerald brought David Johnson over for an introduction. Then Fitzgerald had another post-practice conversation with Ducey. Fitz understands how to make all the connections.

— CB Tramon Williams did not practice, apparently taking a rest day. RB Kerwynn Williams sat again with a sore foot, after it had been stepped on.

— At one point, S Budda Baker went down after a play and hobbled off with the assistance of head athletic trainer Tom Reed. But Baker turned out to be OK and came back to practice.

— Fitz made a spectacular diving one-handed catch on the sideline. Tight end Gerald Christian made a great leaping TD catch in the back of the end zone, and fellow tight end Ricky Seals-Jones made an equally impressive grab over (literally) linebacker Philip Wheeler. Wide receiver Krishawn Hogan made an improbable catch with CB Brandon Williams in a perfect spot.

— One day left.


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After practice: Nkemdiche limps off

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2017 – 5:24 pm

Bruce Arians was talking at lunchtime about how healthy the Cardinals were getting. Then defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche limped off to the locker room, accompanied by a trainer. Looked like his left ankle or leg was bothering him. No way to know what it is — your first thought is that it isn’t serious, but we’ll talk to Arians tomorrow — yet with the very good preseason/camp Nkemdiche has been having, it’s certainly an undesirable situation.

— QB Carson Palmer took a rest day. So too did LB Karlos Dansby, who finally came back to practice Monday. I’m sure they are just being careful with Dansby, but it’s been a while since he’s had a couple practices in a row.

— With Dansby not out there, Josh Bynes was taking first-team reps at inside linebacker with Haason Reddick in Bynes’ first practice following a hamstring issue. It sure looks like Bynes has a roster spot, unless he collapses the rest of the preseason.

— RB Kerwynn Williams was also sitting out practice. Not sure his aliment. Arians did not mention him during his press conference.

— The last two days, Reddick has been taking reps as an OLB/pass rusher during one-on-one drills with the offensive line. (Actually, they have been two-on-two drills as  the OL works on protecting on stunts and twists.) The Cardinals aren’t going to overwhelm Reddick with too many non-ILB things right now, but Arians had said they want to get him a little more exposure to pass rushing.

— Is David Johnson getting to do enough? It’s interesting to watch the running back sprint 30, 40, 50 yards through a play sometimes — occasionally he doesn’t even have the ball — in what looks like an attempt just to get some running in. (Side note: He’s fast. Faster than you think.)

— During “thud” tackling, whoever is covering TE Jermaine Gresham better be ready. Gresham still plows into a defender who chooses to get in front of him.

— During scout team work, rookie QB Trevor Knight had a couple of nice 44-yard bombs to RB James Summers (over LB Chandler Jones) and WR Krishawn Hogan (over S Budda Baker.)

— Mostly though, it was a practice of the defense. Tyrann Mathieu was actually getting irritated late in the work because scout-look QBs were holding the ball so long against the No. 1 D (there would have been multiple sacks). Mathieu would have had one airborne pick before he yanked his arms down at the last second, preventing any kind of in-air contact, and on another play where Knight short-hopped a receiver Mathieu had defended perfectly, Mathieu angrily batted the ball back into the turf. He knows he would’ve had the pick.

— Guys that did get interceptions: CB Patrick Peterson, S Ironhead Gallon, LB Philip Wheeler in his first practice back from injury, and Baker.


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After practice: Dansby’s chicken reaction

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2017 – 4:33 pm

Karlos Dansby, veteran linebacker and southern gentleman (he’s from Birmingham, Alabama), was asked about adding a Chick-Fil-A store to the new Atlanta Falcons stadium and how Chick-Fil-A will still be closed on Sundays, even there. Los had a lot to say.

“That ain’t right, man. That ain’t right,” Dansby said with a grin. “How do you do something like that? You put a Chick-Fil-A in the stadium, and y’all play on Sundays. It just don’t add up. Know what I’m saying? Everybody is going to be expecting Chick-Fil-A to be open on Sunday at the game. That’s tough, man. I feel sorry for the people. That’s embarrassing. You can’t do that to the fans. It’s not right. Hey man, it’s not right. Hopefully, Chick-Fil-A will step their game up.”

It should be noted that the Cardinals’ game this weekend at brand-new Mercedes Benz Stadium — literally brand-new, since Cardinals-Falcons will be the first event held there — is on Saturday. Los can get some sweet tea if he wants.

— Left guard Mike Iupati left practice early on after trainers were looking at his right elbow/arm. Cole Toner took his spot on the first unit. Receiver Brittan Golden and linebacker Josh Bynes were back limited. Linebacker Philip Wheeler (foot) isn’t back, but he was in uniform with helmet when he was running rehab sprints.

— Wide receiver John Brown did well in his only practice of the week (he is headed to a funeral back home in Florida and will meet the team in Atlanta). He was in the mix through the entire practice and afterward said he was feeling better and wanted to play Saturday. At this point, I’d be surprised if he did not.

— Practices this week are more like the regular season, with scout offenses and defenses prepping the other side of the ball for the opponent. So the actual play isn’t quite like we’ve seen earlier in camp.

— The Cardinals closed with length-of-field two-minute drill work. It was apparently cleared with strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris, who with his staff monitors the players’ steps to make sure they don’t over-extend themselves. Larry Fitzgerald good-naturedly called Morris out for letting it happen. Then Fitzgerald delivered his normal “punishment” — a Fitz sneak-attack tackle.


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Keim: Cards want joint practices next year

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2017 – 8:16 am

There were some “moving parts” that prevented anything this training camp, but Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that “I don’t think there is any question” the Cardinals want to have at least one joint practice matchup with another team in 2018. The Cards, of course, worked out against the Chargers in San Diego in 2016, and went to St. Joseph, Missouri to have joint work with the Chiefs in 2012.

Keim said he, Bruce Arians and Michael Bidwill will talk and try to “hammer something out” for next season. The chance to sidestep camp boredom is a big factor. The Cardinals begin their fourth and final week of training camp at University of Phoenix Stadium this afternoon.

— Keim said he was not happy with the intensity of the Cardinals against the Bears Saturday. “We played the game like it was a preseason game,” he said. Not enough attention to detail was a major culprit. Defensively, way too many sloppy attempts at tackling bothered him. Even Tyrann Mathieu, who made the big interception, wasn’t immune, missing some tackles he normally makes. “That can’t happen,” Keim said, calling the amount of “leaky yards” the Cards surrendered “way too high.”

— Keim was asked specifically if Blaine Gabbert could be battling for the No. 2 QB job against Drew Stanton. “I don’t know if I look at it that way,” Keim said. “For me, it’s a process of getting to know Blaine.” Keim went on to say he is watching how Gabbert is improving in the areas they felt he needed to improve. He called Gabbert a “zero risk-to-reward” signing, which makes all this nothing but a positive if Gabbert shows anything. (But listening to Keim, it does not sound like Gabbert has a chance to unseat Stanton as No. 2, which, frankly, has been the same feeling I’ve had all along.)

— However, in praising Gabbert, Keim did say “you’d be hard-pressed to not say, the way he’s played this preseason, he could potentially be competing for some other teams’ starting positions. That’s just my opinion.”

— Cornerback Brandon Williams is “getting quite a bit better.” Williams arrived a raw rookie last year “frankly in over his head.” Now, he’s going in the right direction.

— Finally, asked if he thought retiring Anquan Boldin was Hall of Fame material, Keim said yes. But he noted he thought Adrian Wilson also deserved Hall consideration, and then noted how both players, along with a handful of others, not only performed so well on the field but were also keys in helping the Cardinals change the culture and direction of the franchise.


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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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“Bored” in camp and more receiverpalooza

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2017 – 1:05 pm

Bruce Arians was happier overall with practice Tuesday (although he’s still making them put on full pads again today), but the Cardinals are “getting bored with each other” at this point in camp.

“Have to fight through that,” Arians added.

Games mean something, even preseason games. And the players look forward to those. But with some teams already breaking camp around the league — teams that didn’t go to camp until well after the Cardinals — and the Cardinals still out at University of Phoenix Stadium and their hotel home through next week, the dog days are definitely here.

“That’s what training camp is,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “It hardens you, makes you a better team. … Everybody wants to get to the season but we still have a lot of work to do.”

— The ongoing story about the wide receivers remained ongoing. Arians was asked about wide receiver John Brown, who had noted that his sickle-cell issue slows his healing process. “That’s a fact,” Arians acknowledged.

As for having to wait on Brown’s return, “I don’t have any choice,” Arians said. “If he can’t run he can’t play. Now, if he can’t run long enough (after he returns), you’ve got to replace him.”

Brown’s stamina looked fine before the quad injury, so that shouldn’t be a problem once Brown gets back. But the Cardinals are clearly watching the situation. Palmer, noting there is still nearly a month before the regular season, isn’t worried about one of his close friends.

“He wants to be out there, but at the same time, we have a ways to go before we play our first game,” Palmer said. “He’s a big part of this offense. We want him in Detroit and we need him in Detroit.”

— Safety Tyrann Mathieu, asked for his perspective on the struggling wide receivers. As teammates, the secondary tries to help motivate, he said. He also noted (with a smile), “They’re not going up against any scrubs.”

— Larry Fitzgerald practiced yesterday when it was supposed to be a day off. “He wanted to help lead his group,” Arians said. What does that say about the veteran Pro Bowler? “You can’t say anything more about Larry that hasn’t been said,” Arians said. “He takes care of his room as good as anybody.”

— Arians said the Cardinals will “probably” keep six receivers on the 53-man roster.

— LB Josh Bynes (hamstring) will probably miss a week. LB Philip Wheeler (foot) is probably out another week, while LB Jarvis Jones (back) isn’t responding and may need another epidural. LB Markus Golden (foot) is day-to-day. T D.J. Humphries (hamstring) should get extended work today.


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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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