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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 18, 2015 – 3:11 pm

The end of the offseason comes with it lots of speculation and analysis. That’s par for the NFL course these days, when even the parts that don’t mean a ton get parsed and dissected. The on-field work of OTAs and minicamp is the ultimate in that regard. Once, when the CBA was different and the league was different, minicamp was about pads and training camp got a brief yet important head start (ask Ron Wolfley.) Now minicamp, other than extra time on the field, is no different from OTAs in terms of (non-)contact and what it means. Shorts are shorts, and football isn’t played in shorts.

So when I get to this point in the offseason, when I put out my best guess at the starting 11 for the Cardinals when the regular season opens Sept. 13 before I take some vacation, it comes with the caveat: So much is still to be learned in training camp. At this point last year, Jonathan Cooper was a virtual lock to start at left guard, for instance. We know how that turned out.

That said, here are my thoughts on the defense. Offense will be posted tomorrow. Something to chew on while the temperature sizzles outside and the players get down time until the very-late July report day. One point to note — the Cardinals do open against the Saints, so the actual starting lineup may actually be the nickel sub-package or something like that. For this exercise, we’re going base defense:

(UPDATE: Here is the offense.)

DE — Frostee Rucker. The Cardinals are going to rotate their defensive linemen a lot (except for maybe Calais Campbell) but the veteran Rucker should be in the game to start. He was dropped into that role in training camp last year after Darnell Dockett got hurt and had a solid season.

NT — Corey Peters. Peters isn’t built the same as departed nose tackle Dan Williams, but the Cardinals are counting on him to have a similar impact. One of the reasons Williams was allowed to leave was because he wasn’t going to play the amount of snaps needed to give him the money he could make on the open market. Peters is a little more versatile. It’ll be interesting to see where someone like undrafted rookie Xavier Williams could eventually fit into this equation.

DE — Calais Campbell. He’s the Pro Bowler of the front seven and the guy who Bruce Arians wants to lead this defense. Interesting that a couple pof times Arians has talked about Campbell finding more consistency in his high play. If Campbell gets there, the Cards’ defense will be in good shape.

OLB — LaMarr Woodley. This is a big wild card going into training camp. Lorenzo Alexander has been with the first unit alongside Alex Okafor, but I think Woodley — or someone — finds a way to supplant Alexander by the time training camp ends. Maybe it would be rookie Markus Golden who pairs with Okafor. Maybe, since it’s the Saints in the first game, DE-turned-OLB Kareem Martin gets a shot. But right now, I’ll guess Woodley.

ILB — Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon has to stay healthy, but if he is, he joins Campbell and Patrick Peterson as the three absolute locks to start.

ILB — Kevin Minter. He won’t play if the Saints run three and four receivers out there constantly, but Minter will be that run stopper inside in a season that really becomes ultra-important. He sat as a rookie because of Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby. His play last season was undercut by a training camp pectoral injury he played through. He’s healthy now, and needs to show why he was a second-round pick.

OLB — Alex Okafor. Okafor has gotten plenty of praise from Arians, who thinks Okafor would have gotten double-digit sacks (he had eight) had he just been healthy for all 16 games. Okafor probably isn’t the long-term dynamic pass rusher the Cards still need, but he has shown he can pressure the quarterback, and that makes him very valuable.

CB — Patrick Peterson. For whatever the reasons might have been, Peterson did not play as well in 2014 as the Cardinals needed or how anyone expected. Time to right that wrong. Peterson looked fit and active in the offseason work, which was a good sign.

CB — Jerraud Powers. There is still a chance Justin Bethel has a great camp and passes up Powers for a starting job, but in the end I expect Powers to be the guy. Arians has said good things about him constantly, and the Cards like his smarts on the field.

SS — Deone Bucannon. For a good chunk of offseason work, it was Bucannon and Rashad Johnson on the field with the first team base defense, with Tyrann Mathieu coming off the bench. But I think Mathieu will be a guy the Cards want to have on the field at all times, and right now, I think they’d like to find a way for Bucannon to have a role at safety. Now, the Cards will want to use Johnson — the on-field coach of the secondary, if not the defense — but I think it’ll be more like the role Johnson had in 2013 once Mathieu took his starting spot.

FS — Tyrann Mathieu. Again, the Cards have depth at safety. There will be times when Bucannon plays some linebacker in sub-packages and the Cards use Mathieu, Johnson and Tony Jefferson on the field at the same time. Arians has stressed the Cards want the best 11 on the field for each particular play. But a healthy, playmaking Mathieu is going to get a lot of snaps.

DefensiveHuddleBloguse

 


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A late start to camp (and the season)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 17, 2015 – 10:37 am

The Cardinals officially announced this year’s training camp dates today, with players reporting for the run test July 31 and the first practice — open to the public too — coming Aug. 1. If you feel like that’s late, it’s because it is. The Cardinals usually report at least a week earlier but that’s because the season usually starts earlier. Rules say camp can start 15 days ahead of the first preseason game, and the preseason games work backward from the regular season. The Cards’ first preseason game isn’t until Aug. 15 — hosting the Kansas City Chiefs — because the regular-season opener isn’t until the Saints visit Sept. 13. The Saints game is so late, of course, because the NFL doesn’t want to open on Labor Day weekend, and Labor Day comes as late as it can this year, on Sept. 7.

The last time the Cardinals started camp so late was 2004, when Labor Day fell on Sept. 6 and the Cardinals opened the regular season in St. Louis on Sept. 12. That was also Denny Green’s first season, when the team reported to Flagstaff Aug. 1. (And Green shocked everyone by cutting starting center Pete Kendall that day, the jumping-off point to a wild roller-coaster of a season.)

In all, there are 19 open practices at University of Phoenix Stadium. Sure, there are about seven weeks before football starts but I know I’m ready for some down time. It’ll be here soon enough.

CampBloguse


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Cooper’s angry toe, and B.A.’s thoughts

Posted by Darren Urban on August 21, 2014 – 12:27 pm

The same three players will miss practice again Thursday with injuries — Kevin Minter (pectoral), Max Starks (ankle) and Jonathan Cooper (toe). And Cooper knows everyone is waiting on him to get back and start showing what made him a No. 1 draft pick. His turf toe is not cooperating.

“It’s getting better each day, but it hasn’t gotten to the point where I feel I can be effective and really evaluated fairly,” Cooper said.

Sometimes, Cooper admits, he can play up on his toes, which technically is not correct. But until he breaks that habit it’s a factor given that the toe injury makes it very difficult to push off. Ted Larsen will start at left guard for the Cardinals Sunday in the third preseason game, and at this point, Cooper is running out of time to make sure he’s the starting left guard when the regular season begins Sept. 8.

“It’s definitely been tough sitting out, especially coming off an injury that forced me to sit out so long,” Cooper said. “I just have to understand it’s part of my personal process. As long as I come back ready to play, everything will be OK.”

— Coach Bruce Arians said he wasn’t happy with the intensity of Wednesday’s practice, and it bothered him since the 2013 Cardinals had issues early in the season with having mediocre practices on Wednesday following the normal Tuesday off day — like the Cards had this week.

“We are going to try and nip that in the bud,” Arians said. “Just pointing out the trends to them that we do not want to set.”

— Arians knows new defensive lineman Ryan McBean because he was coaching with the Steelers when McBean was drafted there. But he reserved big praise for the other new defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a guy take a physical, sign a contract, get dressed, takes reps with the first-team defense and tell them what they were doing,” Arians said of Sopoaga’s Wednesday debut. “It was a real good start for him. He brings a lot of energy and professionalism.”

— The starters will play no more than a half Sunday, Arians reiterated, and “hopefully less than a half if we are playing really well.”

— The Cards will not fill their open two roster spots since the team has to shave the roster down to 75 Tuesday anyway, Arians said.

— Finally, there was this interesting comment about the defense: “I think we are better than we were last year right now at this time,” Arians said. “This defense is better than that one, even without Darnell.” Now, the Cardinals defense got better as the season went along, and didn’t have Daryl Washington for the first four games either. Last year’s defense was still learning what Todd Bowles wanted. But Arians definitely can’t be faulted for having confidence in his team.


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Scuffle means running “after” practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2014 – 6:02 pm

It was mostly a routine final-practice-before-a-game Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium, but then it got very interesting at the end. No, that’s not referring to the first meeting with the media for linebacker John Abraham, who returned to the team after missing the first 20 days of training camp. Instead, it came on the field. The Cardinals ran a nice pass play with tight end John Carlson coming across the field for the catch and heading for a touchdown. That’s where all the eyes were until suddenly there were coaches yelling and a host of players — it seemed like 15 or 20 already — near the line of scrimmage in a group. A scuffle had started, although with so many people, it was impossible to know who had been in it.

At this point, Bruce Arians had made very, very clear how he feels about things like that. The other day, Darnell Dockett and Bradley Sowell had been made to take laps, but obviously, the message didn’t stick. So Arians went to the next level, stopping practice altogether to make the entire squad — save for the guys sitting out because of injuries — run sprints from sideline to sideline. Up and back they went six times, before Arians called the team together in a huddle. It seemed like practice was over, and Arians even left the field. But the players did not, and after a couple of minutes, 11-on-11 commenced for a little while longer. Arians even came back on the field, although it was clear he was angry.

“It’s camp and stuff like that happens,” cornerback Justin Bethel said. “We’ve just got to know that we’re a team and stick together. We’re trying to win a championship, and we can’t be fighting amongst each other. It’s all about team. Team is what it takes is our slogan right now. We just had to do some extra conditioning and put it behind us.

“(Coach) made his point, and we already knew where he stood with that. Some guys, they lose their tempers, and it happens, but we’ve just got to keep on moving forward.”

As for the end of practice, “I think some of the players on the team just decided we wanted to finish up practice because every play is important for us,” Bethel said. “I think they decided among themselves, ‘Let’s go ahead and just finish up practice because we didn’t have much left.’ ”

— Abraham did not practice in his first day back, getting a physical and meeting with the strength and conditioning coaches to see where his fitness was. Abraham said it might take a few days to get back on the practice field but said he was confident he’ll be ready for the regular season.

— Arians said wide receivers Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will travel to Minnesota and could still possibly play against the Vikings. It does not look as good for guard Jonathan Cooper (toe), linebacker Kevin Minter (pectoral) and defensive tackle Bruce Gaston (knee).

FightRunBlogUse

 


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Cards sign LB Bishop

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2014 – 8:27 am

The Cardinals have filled one of their three empty roster spots, and as Bruce Arians promised, it’s with someone the team hopes can be more than just a camp body. Veteran inside linebacker Desmond Bishop arrived Thursday with a couple of weeks to try and make enough of an impression to stick around.

Bishop was drafted by the Packers in 2007 and won a Super Bowl while in Green Bay in 2010. But his time with the Packers ended after he missed the entire 2012 season following a preseason hamstring injury that needed surgery. He signed a one-year contract with the Vikings last season, but in the fourth game he played for Minnesota he tore his ACL, ending his season. In his last full season, Bishop had more than 100 tackles and five sacks.

So, with that background of very few football games played in two years, Bishop comes to Arizona. After cutting inside linebacker Ernie Sims, the Cardinals could use more numbers inside, especially with starter Kevin Minter nursing an injured pectoral muscle. The top four inside linebackers have been Minter, Larry Foote, Lorenzo Alexander and Kenny Demens. That’s the group Bishop probably needs to crack to stick around.

It’ll be the second linebacker the Cards get today, since John Abraham is expected to arrive after missing camp thus far for personal reasons.

Desmond Bishop, Frank Gore


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Dockett, Sowell with first camp scuffle

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2014 – 4:42 pm

Finally, the Cardinals, under Bruce Arians, had a training camp fight.

The Cards didn’t have one during Arians’ first training camp last year. The streak held for two-plus weeks this year too. (I stand corrected. A fan reminded me that Bryan McCann and Charles Hawkins had a scrap late in camp last year, and lo and behold, they did.)

Monday, tackle Bradley Sowell and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett got into a post-play scuffle that wasn’t much of one. It was broken up quickly. But then we saw why Arians’ team doesn’t have such fights. Sowell and Dockett were made to run/walk/jog laps the rest of practice, which endd up being more than 30 minutes.

“It’s been a long time,” Sowell said of the last time he was made to run laps as punishment. “Dating back to probably middle school. Somewhere in there.”

It wasn’t a surprise though. At the outset of camp, Arians warned the team of the consequences of a fight. He frowns on that behavior. “The first thing you do is break your hand,” Arians said. “Might as well punch the wall. If you want to break your hand, break your hand. If you want to fight I’ll put boxing gloves on you and you can fight your ass off.”

There weren’t any broken hands Monday, or boxing gloves. Just the image of Dockett — who declined to comment — and Sowell circling the field over and over as practice went on as normal.

“We were coming off a big win where obviously as a team we looked good and the message today was don’t be complacent,” Sowell said. “Me and Dockett had the same mindset, neither one of us were going to go there (and be complacent). It happened the way it happened.”

Sowell said he and Dockett had been getting into it a little in each drill as practice had been going. “I knew it would eventually get heated,” Sowell said. At one point, Sowell caught up to Dockett during the laps and the two spoke briefly before continuing the punishment on their own.

“It was ‘We’re still teammates, let’s finish up this running and get by it.’ We both have played a little bit of football in the league. We both know how it is. Neither one of us want to lose,” Sowell said.

As teammate Lyle Sendlein said earlier in camp, “The Cardinals aren’t on the Cardinals’ schedule.”

“We’re teammates,” Sowell said. “It’s done.”

ScufflePicBLOG

 


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Arians: Starters’ playing time to be limited

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2014 – 12:35 pm

When your head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators and many of the main players are the same as last season, and after the team has a whole looked pretty good in the preseason opener, the thought process for the preseason sometimes with be adjusted. That sounds like it might be true for coach Bruce Arians, who said today that he might “buck the trend” and not play starters as much as he might normally in the preseason. It’s obviously on his mind. He mentioned running back Andre Ellington in particular, who should play a little more Saturday in Minnesota but “Andre is not going to see a whole lot of action this preseason.” Arians wants to keep Ellington healthy. (I know. Stunner.)

— Speaking of healthy, the Cardinals didn’t suffer any major injuries in the preseason opener. A handful of guys will miss practice today and Arians said they are all day-to-day: G Jonathan Cooper (toe), T Max Starks (ankle), G Anthony Steen (neck), T Nate Potter (back) and LB Kevin Minter (pectoral). Arians said C Lyle Sendlein (calf) will miss the Vikings game and it’s possible WRs Ted Ginn (knee) and Michael Floyd (groin) will too, but all three are expected back next week at the latest.

— Arians on his running game, which had Ellington with only two carries and a total of three kneeldown plays: “I am not concerned. We ran the ball effectively even with some mental errors from some young guys.” The Cardinals had a total of 81 yards rushing on 37 official attempts.

— The fight for positions in the backfield, tight end, wide receiver, defensive line and secondary are all intense, Arians said. “You better not have a bad day,” he said. “One bad day could cost you your job.”

— As for the idea the Cardinals could keep six receivers, Arians said the roster makeup isn’t locked into certain numbers. “We won’t cut a player at one position to keep someone just for depth,” he said. “If he is a better player, we want the best players on the team. There are some great battles from 45 to 53. Knock on wood, hopefully injuries won’t deplete us.”

— No sign yet of linebacker John Abraham. Asked if he still expected Abraham to arrive this week, Arians said “we’re hoping.” As for what the Cardinals can expect from Abraham when he does get here, Arians said he isn’t worried. “He was in great shape when he showed up (last year) and I’d think he’d come back in just as good of shape,” Arians said. “Knocking that rust off and getting up to playing speed in a lot of the new stuff on defense (that) he hasn’t been exposed to. There will be a learning curve but he will hopefully have more than 20 days to be ready.”


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Keim: Six receivers possible

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2014 – 9:32 am

The Cardinals, not surprisingly, should keep “potentially” five of six wide receivers on the 53-man roster, GM Steve Keim said Monday during his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7. That math isn’t hard to follow. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn and rookie John Brown are the top four and the locks. Barring something changing, it seems hard to believe Jaron Brown — given his special teams ability — won’t be the fifth. Beyond that, it looks like it could come down to rookie Walt Powell and Brittan Golden — or, possibly, no one. Powell is practice-squad eligible, although you’d have to get him through waivers.

“That’s the kind of problem you want to have as a General Manager,” Keim said.

Some other Keim thoughts after the first preseason game:

— He was generally pleased with the work of the offensive linemen. Jonathan Cooper “rebounded nicely” after giving up the early sack to J.J. Watt. Keim thought Cooper looked athletic in space a couple of times, which is why the Cardinals liked Cooper so much in the first place. More importantly, Keim liked how Cooper got back in the fray after having his leg (the same one that had been broken) rolled up on early. The O-line “certainly looks like an area we have upgraded.”

— Keim liked the ability to create mismatches in the passing game. That was obvious a few times, especially with tight ends getting wide open on delayed routes. John Carlson caught a touchdown (called back), Rob Housler had a 38-yard catch-and-run, and Darren Fells dropped what should have been a TD catch or near-TD catch.

— He praised John Brown and Jaron Brown, but that’s no surprise. Nor was it a shock to hear Keim appreciated the “accuracy and poise” of QB Logan Thomas.

— Keim liked how second-year inside linebacker Kenny Demens — another guy who looks like a lock to make the 53-man roster at this point — played, especially on special teams. The GM noted guys like Demens, Jaron Brown, running back Robert Hughes, cornerback Justin Bethel and guard Paul Fanaika and how their games have changed. “It gives me great faith in our coaching staff,” Keim said. “(Those are) guys that not only have improved but improved considerably.”

— It all comes with a caveat that it is only a preseason game and the first one at that. Staying injury-free and fixing what Keim saw as multiple mental errors are still topping the to-do list.


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B.A. talks Sims, Badger, Coop

Posted by Darren Urban on August 7, 2014 – 12:21 pm

Some quick notes from Bruce Arians’ lunchtime presser, on the last day of availability before the Cardinals actually get to play a game Saturday against the Texans at home:

— The only player Arians said he plans to hold out from the game is center Lyle Sendlein, who is still dealing with the bad calf. Wide receiver John Brown was shut down in practice again yesterday due to fatigue in the hamstring, but Arians emphasized again it’s not injured. He also said Brown should have no issues in the game because he will be getting rests between possessions.

— The Cardinals cut LB Ernie Sims because he was not a fit, and Arians figured, as a veteran, the team owed it to Sims to let him go now to see if he could find a team that he could actually fit. As for the two empty roster spots with Sims’ release and the Jake Ballard retirement, he said the Cardinals aren’t in any hurry to fill them. “We’ve got way too many now,” Arians quipped.

— Ballard’s retirement was not a surprise to Arians. “I was in pain watching him trying to make it through practice,” the coach said. Ballard’s last MRI showed bone-on-bone, and Ballard’s future in the NFL was grim. “Hate to see it because he has such a passion for the game,” Arians said. “But it was the right move.”

— Arians dismissed the optimism of Tyrann Mathieu yesterday (although Mathieu’s demeanor and full comments at the time showed he too understood he wasn’t exactly at the doorstep of coming off PUP.) “We’ll still stick with our timetable and see how it comes out and when he comes off,” Arians said.

— Guard Jonathan Cooper’s play has improved since he had his knee drained, Arians said. “I thought he moved around much better.” No word on whether the knee is any concern. Arians didn’t make it sound like it was.

— Teams are able to use tablets on the sideline for the first time, but Arians sounds wary after using them during the Fan Fest practice. Like most tablet users, coaches have had some issues with glare from the screen, whether it’s the lights indoors at University of Phoenix Stadium or an outdoor stadium. “I’ll go back to the (still) pictures,” Arians said. “I’m old school.” he smiled. “Tom (Moore) will handle all the high-tech stuff.”

Moore, of course, is 75. Arians is 61.

 


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Defense knows too much (and other notes)

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2014 – 5:43 pm

The Cardinals’ defense will be good again this season. Just ask the Cardinals’ offense.

“Every day we go on the field is an unbelievable challenge for this offense,” coach Bruce Arians said.

It’s about more than talent, though. The defense not only has players but it has information. It has watched the offense run its plays over and over, in camp and this offseason. It has heard the audibles.

“Because we see so many pressures, blitz period or not, they are going to know our audibles,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Coach Arians said it (Tuesday), as soon as we audibled one play the whole defense knew what was coming. He just wants to see the audible executed, (even if it is) completely covered and blown up. But you see it in a walkthrough and then in practice, it’s pretty easy to pick up. Once you go in a game, you only use that audible once every three weeks. You understand the situation for what it is. But that stuff does get frustrating.”

Palmer emphasized how much respect he has for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. “You can’t get a bead on what you think is coming,” Palmer said.

Still, it makes success during training camp much, much harder.

“When offense wins a few matches in practice, I am very proud our offense is getting better,” Arians said.

— Maybe that played a part in Wednesday’s practice. At one point during team work, the defense would have come up with a handful of sacks and/or heavy pressures on the passer. Then at the end of the day, when the offense took on the defense — first unit versus first unit, and so on — for an attempt at a mostly length-of-the-field drive, the defense was winning. The first-string offense drove all the way into the red zone, only to have cornerback Antonio Cromartie bring down a beautiful one-handed interception on a fade route to Ted Ginn. The second offense only had a couple of plays before a pass to Jaron Brown was deflected high in the air before linebacker Ernie Sims grabbed the ball. The third offense was successful, eventually scoring a touchdown on a short run by Jonathan Dwyer.

— Darren Fells would seem to have an inside track at a roster spot as the fourth tight end after Jake Ballard’s retirement, but he had his hiccups Wednesday after the news came out, dropping a couple of catchable passes.

— Everybody was out practicing except for DT Darnell Dockett (who was given a rest day by Arians) and center Lyle Sendlein, still out with a calf injury.

— Tyrann Mathieu, on the help he gives rookie safety Deone Bucannon: “I try to tell him what I know. I don’t try to tell him too much because I don’t know everything.”

— Arians said the kicking spot will come down to how the games play out. “All the eggs are in that basket,” he said. “It’ll be a tough decision.” Arians said each kicker will be given a full game to work, starting with Chandler Catanzano against Houston Saturday. Feely will kick in Minnesota the following week.

86CroINTuse

 


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