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Badger and the first padded practice

Posted by Darren Urban on July 24, 2017 – 9:11 am

It’s the third practice, but today will be the big one. The pads finally go on.

“You just can’t hit ’31’ and ’11,'” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Everyone else is free game.”

Honey Badger had a small smile as he said it, but it’s kind of true (it goes without saying Carson Palmer would join David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald in that group.) When Bruce Arians talks about wanting a more physical camp, this is where we will see it. Arians already noted that there won’t be a ton more tackling — maybe two or three scrimmage-like periods, with mostly young guys, rather than just the one at the Red-White practice we usually see — but there is a quest for a mentality upgrade from where the Cardinals came out of camp last season.

(We already know some vets will be handled carefully, which is a no-brainer. Arians already said Fitz and Palmer aren’t playing in the Hall of Fame game.)

The best part for me is always the one-on-ones: Linebackers versus tight ends and backs, offensive line versus defensive line. Those are intense short-term battles. And this is when football season feels like it has really arrived.

If you are looking for the camp practice schedule to figure out when you want to visit, check out azcardinals.com/cardscamp.


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Cardinals still blitz-happy under Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on July 13, 2017 – 1:15 pm

Bruce Arians kept his promise. The Cardinals acquired Chandler Jones last offseason (and were counting on Markus Golden taking another step forward as a pass rusher) and yet before the season he said he still wouldn’t be happy unless the Cards were blitzing.

“If we’ve got four good ones, why not send five or six?” Arians said then.

The Cards got what they wanted out of Jones (11 sacks) and Golden (12.5 sacks). But they also kept blitzing. Pro Football Focus has the numbers (and a couple of gifs for examples). NFL teams blitz an average of 30 percent of the time, PFF says, and about 38 percent in obvious passing situations. The Cardinals in 2016? Blitzing nearly 41 percent of the time (and 41.4 percent on first downs.) PFF makes the point that, in blitzing, it gives teams less chance to double-team when blocking. But in the end, Arians just likes to bring the pressure. It’s the defensive equivalent of the deep shots B.A. likes to take on offense. What, you thought because B.A. is an offensive guy that “No risk-it, no biscuit” was restricted to offense?

It’s also followed the change in DC from Todd Bowles — who blitzed a lot — to James Bettcher. With the addition of rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick (who played a pass-rushing defensive end at Temple) and a healthy Tyrann Mathieu, there seem to be more blitzing options heading into 2017.


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A Badger in London

Posted by Darren Urban on July 11, 2017 – 8:49 am

In advance of the Cardinals’ Week 8 trip to London to play the Rams, safety Tyrann Mathieu is there now as part of an NFL contingent publicizing all four of the 2017 London games. Each of the eight teams involved sent a player over, and today Mathieu was at Twickenham — where the Cards will play — doing interviews, taking part in photo shoots and having a talk with soccer star Bayo Akinfewna (who has some NFL size and is nicknamed “The Beast.”)

The players will spend a few days in London hyping the games. In the U.K., the NFL sells “season tickets” to all four games for those who want to attend all of them, and even though two games will be played at Wembley Stadium and two at Twickenham (which is outside the city), there is a group marketing effort.

Mathieu is a natural ambassador for the Cardinals. High-profile with a good personality, he is also hoping that he can regain his 2015 form as the 2017 season unfolds.

By the time Mathieu (whose exploits are being chronicled by our video department, so there will a video to watch somewhere down the line) returns at the end of the week, the offseason will have nearly run its course. Players report to training camp a week from Friday, with the first practice coming a week from Saturday.


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 22, 2017 – 11:33 am

What’s frightening – at least to someone that hasn’t been on vacation yet – is that the first practice of 2017 training camp is exactly one month away. This is where I’d like time to slow down a bit. But this is also the time, before I take a step away for a bit and with the Cardinals a couple weeks already gone after wrapping minicamp, that I take a too-early shot at what the starting lineups will be Sept. 10 in Detroit.

Today, we’ll do defense. Tomorrow, the offense (right here). Most of these are pretty obvious. There are no real titanic battles on the camp docket. These can change if Steve Keim chooses to bring in a vet, but right now, nothing is imminent.

DT – Josh Mauro. Quietly, Mauro a) started almost all last season and b) has become one of the favorites of this coaching staff. No gaudy stats, but DL coach Brentson Buckner said Mauro is always effective when he’s on the field.

NT – Corey Peters. Speaking of quietly, Peters too played well in 2016. Came back strong off his Achilles injury. Proving to be a solid 2015 free-agent signing, even if he missed a year.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Always a chance Robert Nkemdiche could slip in, but I’m guessing Rucker – now healthy when he wasn’t in 2016 – takes hold of this spot, at least in the beginning. There will be plenty of rotating across the defensive line at all three spots.

OLB – Chandler Jones. No more uncertainly. Jones has his long-term contract, and so you pencil him in.

ILB – Haason Reddick. This is supposed to be Deone Bucannon’s spot, and there is still a chance he’s ready by the opener. I’m going to guess it’ll take Buc a little longer than that to be ready, and so I think the rookie will be the anti-Nkemdiche/Humphries and be in the lineup from jump.

ILB – Karlos Dansby. Dansby is supposed to be a bridge guy to the Bucannon/Reddick ILB lineup. But he still sees himself as “legendary,” and to the benefit of the Cards, he’ll work as hard as he can to stay in the lineup.

OLB – Markus Golden. Had a breakout second season, leading the team in sacks. Will be an interesting year too, since he (like David Johnson) will be eligible for a contract extension after the season, with 2018 his final year under contract.

CB – Patrick Peterson. A star, and he’s earned that title. Sometimes he gives up something, but that happens when you cover the other team’s best every week. Most of the time, Peterson makes the play.

CB – Justin Bethel. One of the biggest questions. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if Bethel is not the starter against the Lions. If Keim were to sign a veteran on defense, this is the spot I would bet it’d be for. All that said, Bethel looked better than Brandon Williams in the offseason, he is healthy, and if the roster stays as is, Bethel makes the most sense in this role.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals need full-on Honey Badger. That is all.

SS – Antoine Bethea. There are options at the other safety spot. I don’t see Budda Baker in this role, not yet. Tyvon Branch remains an option. But there is a reason the Cardinals signed Bethea, and I think they will want his experience and leadership on the field.


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Minter replaces Dansby who replaced Minter

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2017 – 3:18 pm

Once Karlos Dansby came back to the Cardinals (“Three-down linebacker? Man, I’m one interception away from being a legend, man”), it was clear Kevin Minter would be moving on. Minter did Saturday, reportedly agreeing to a deal with the Bengals. While Minter got better over his four years, the Cardinals were still looking to upgrade. We will see if Dansby — who turns 36 during the season and is 10 years older than Minter — is that answer, although I will not be surprised to see the Cardinals address the position in the draft.

It’s interesting that Minter is going to Cincinnati, where he will ostensibly replace Dansby, who is obviously replacing him. And then, to think back to 2013, when Minter was a second-round pick (and basically ignored that night, because the third-round pick was Tyrann Mathieu) and then lost out on a chance to start next to Daryl Washington when Dansby was signed for tenure No. 2 in Arizona.

So the Cardinals saw Dansby in Cincy and believed him better than Minter. And the Bengals didn’t worry about losing Dansby and see Minter as a replacement. I’ll miss Minter, who became a go-to guy in the locker room and was willing to avoid sugarcoating stuff, especially when things didn’t go well last season.

Out of nine 2013 draft picks, the Cardinals have two left — Mathieu and Andre Ellington, with Stepfan Taylor still a free agent.


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Comings, goings, kickers and Dansby

Posted by Darren Urban on March 9, 2017 – 5:21 pm

Free agency started Thursday and it was busy. As expected, Calais Campbell left, as did Tony Jefferson. And D.J. Swearinger. The Cardinals kept center A.Q. Shipley, and they found a new safety in Antoine Bethea. Things are moving at a rapid pace all across the league. That’s pretty normal.

— The safety trio of Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea should be OK if Mathieu and Branch can stay healthy. That’s the hope.

— It’ll be Boehm vs. Shipley for starting center. Nick Mangold isn’t walking through that door. Don’t forget that the Cardinals felt comfortable with the job Shipley did last season. Boehm will get his chance, but I don’t think the Cards are worried if Shipley is the starter again this season.

— Bethea was released, so he does not count in the compensatory pick equation. Campbell, Jefferson and Swearinger will, and with the large deals Campbell and Jefferson got, the Cardinals are well ahead in the 2018 comp pick game. So there’s that.

— It looks like linebacker Karlos Dansby could end up with a third tenure with the Cardinals. That’s huge, man. Huge. Mostly because Kevin Minter — the man who replaced him after the 2013 season — is a free agent and who knows if he will return. Dansby had more than 100 tackles with the Bengals last season, so he’s still plugging along.

— Dansby is older (he’ll be 36 during the season) but not as old as kicker Phil Dawson, the former 49er who looks like he’ll be coming to Arizona as well. If Dawson does, that’s the steady kicker the Cards didn’t have a season ago. The Cards have moved on from Chandler Catanzaro.

— Like Catanzaro, tight end Darren Fells was a restricted free agent whom the team did not tender. Fells is going to visit the Lions.

— Should hear something soon on the official front with the Chandler Jones extension, but judging by reports it’s going to look a lot like Olivier Vernon money ($80+M in potential value, $50+M in guarantees.) Which makes sense, because Vernon’s deal always was the likely benchmark for an extension.

— On the first day of the new league year, the NFLPA had the Cardinals with $21.3 million of salary cap space. That’d be prior to Bethea and Shipley signing (and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who officially signed his contract Thursday as well.)

Day one is done. Hopefully.


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Bidwill, potential Cards and second chances

Posted by Darren Urban on March 3, 2017 – 10:52 am

This year more than any other, potential NFL draftees with off-field red flags have been highlighted here at the Scouting combine, in large part because some are not here. The NFL didn’t invite a few players who normally would have been otherwise if it weren’t for off-field trouble. That has generated mixed reviews from NFL people, although Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said he was glad to see it and send the message the NFL is “not messing around with this.”

(My full chat with Bidwill will be posted Monday on azcardinals.com.)

The Cardinals haven’t shied away from drafting players with off-field question marks, however. They’ve shown that with Tyrann Mathieu and Robert Nkemdiche. Bidwill, as owner, has the ultimate say over who will stay available on the Cards’ draft board, and who will not.

“It started with my grandfather and my father, and I am following in their footsteps, that we’re not going to have bad character guys,” Bidwill said. “That doesn’t mean that people don’t make mistakes, in college especially. They are kids. They are 18 when they get to college. We should give people a second chance if they are truly earnest about turning their life around. That’s my role, to make that decision. They push those decisions up to me.

“There are clearly some kids still getting in trouble their junior, senior year that look like they are going to have a chronic problem and I don’t want to waste my time talking to them.”

Still, Bidwill said, there are players that the football side will “bring to me and say, ‘We want to try and convince you.’ ” One was Mathieu, who was aided in Patrick Peterson’s willingness to stand on the table and vouch for Mathieu. Nkemdiche went through a number of interviews with the Cards last year, including a sit-down with Bidwill. Whether any potential Card falls into that category this year, that’s what these next couple of months are for.

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Cardinals — on the basketball court?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 19, 2017 – 1:59 pm

Late in the season, the Cardinals’ offensive linemen installed one of those mini-basketball hoops above one of their lockers. Every once in a while, after practice, somebody (or somebodies) would take a few shots. There’s no question that over the years, plenty of players have come through that space thinking they were quite the basketball players.

Anquan Boldin could play. Kurt Warner could really play (and still does, hosting invite-only pickup games at his house in Scottsdale). Josh McCown could really play.

With the NBA all-star game today, it’s a good time to discuss who might make a solid unit for the hardwood. I’ve had the chance to talk to a handful of players about their basketball backgrounds. (I have not talked to everyone, and I am sure I will have inevitably missed some serious baller here. I ask, preemptively, for forgiveness.)

You’ve got to start with Darren Fells. The guy played pro basketball, after all. Larry Fitzgerald still likes to trash-talk Fells, and at one point there was a challenge of a one-on-one game, but I’m guessing Fitz wouldn’t like how that would turn out. Still, I’ve seen Fitz enough times in charity games that he probably could be in the starting lineup.

Our point guard would be Tyrann Mathieu, who might not quite be the same player as he was prior to a pair of ACL injuries, although I’m guessing he’d say different. (That video doesn’t exactly show the Badger against the best defense.) Calais Campbell, who at 6-foot-8 did some damage inside in high school, can be our center. And you don’t want to forget David Johnson (15.7 points, 7.9 rebounds a game as a senior in high school, and second-team all-state), who noted on Twitter he’s got a 41.5-inch vertical.

Off the bench? Kareem Martin, who played football at North Carolina, had a chance to walk on to the Tar Heels basketball team and maybe be the next Julius Peppers. Martin decided to concentrate on football, but you’ve got to have some game to be considered for UNC hoops. Some Earl Watford (Earl had some good stories about being the muscle on the court for his high school team), and a little A.Q. Shipley (A.Q., while shooting on that mini-hoop, assured me that back in the day, he was quite nimble on the court). Close it out with Tony Jefferson, who plays pretend basketball in the locker room with the trash cans more than any player ever and loves his Suns. (Yes, Jefferson was cut as a sophomore in high school, but noted that he had 16 points and five steals in his final lower-level high school appearance, so there’s that.)

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How safe will Cardinals be in secondary?

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2016 – 5:01 pm

Tony Jefferson, that one-time undrafted free agent who was not a happy man when he was undrafted, will wait to see what his future holds. He’s on IR after hurting his knee, his best season over after 92 tackles, 13 for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups and even four tackles on special teams (the unit on which Jefferson got hurt.)

The Cardinals want to bring Jefferson back, and I believe Jefferson wants to return. But money talks, and when you have a guy who was undrafted in the first place (and then got less as a restricted free agent, with no competing offers, last offseason, much to his chagrin) money will be screaming this time around. Understandable.

The thing is, the Cards will have to figure out this complex puzzle of their secondary and safety. D.J. Swearinger is also an unrestricted-free-agent-to-be, and he too will be looking for money after falling to practice squad status as recently as last season. Tyrann Mathieu will be back next season, fully healthy without surgeries and that bodes well. Tyvon Branch should be back too, but when Mathieu goes into the slot, that leaves a spot. And that’s assuming Branch and Mathieu can stay healthy, with which both have had issues.

Jefferson is the kind of home-grown talent you’d love to keep around. He’s had a good season. But he’s also one of those players that might’ve fallen into the cracks — too good to afford to keep him, not quite good enough that you don’t think you can’t replace him. Plus there are the intangibles that are hard to measure.

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Thursday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2016 – 4:26 pm

The Cardinals actually won the first game played (that counted) at what is now CenturyLink Field.

It was 2002, and Thomas Jones had his best game as a Card and even though Jake Plummer couldn’t do much, the Cards knocked off the Seahawks, 24-13, the second week of the regular season. The building was simply a new building back then, certainly not the intimidating factor it has grown to be (although, as with most places, the stadium is intimidating when the team playing there is good. If the team playing there isn’t as good, not so much.)

The Cards with Carson Palmer have been good there. Two Palmer starts, two Cardinals wins. When the Cardinals lost in 2014, Palmer was injured and Drew Stanton was behind center. Palmer will be there Saturday, but the team around him is beat up and broken down. It’s not how the Cardinals wanted this matchup to be, especially with the Seahawks in mostly better shape than the first time these teams met this season. But the NFC West has been determined, the Cards are out of the playoffs and all there is for the Cardinals to spoil Seattle’s hopes for that No. 2 seed. Which isn’t nothing, but this game was supposed to be about so much more.

— Well, offensive line of John Wetzel, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Taylor Boggs and Earl Watford, welcome to Seattle. They held up OK against the Saints, but, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, this is a different animal, no?

“This is a very different animal,” Goodwin said. “It’s from outer space. It’s not necessarily an animal, it’s an alien.”

Goodwin said he hasn’t really said much to the group along those lines, however.

“To be honest, I leave them alone,” Goodwin said. “You don’t want to do too much talking. The film speaks for itself. The place we are going this weekend, the crowd noise … we know what we are up against.”

— That’s why the Cardinals need to be able to run the ball — it’s nice having David Johnson for that, although Johnson had to grind out his yardage in the first meeting, the infamous 6-6 tie. There can’t be penalties or sacks. Get at least a little something on each down. “This is not the place you want to go, this is not the team you want to see, in third-and-long,” Goodwin said.

— I don’t know how far Robert Nkemdiche has come yet. But I think it’s been proven that Bruce Arians wouldn’t give him praise unless something has gotten better. Doubtful we’ll see much the last two games, although he will play. It’s about 2017 for the first-round pick.

— Injuries always play a factor, but not having money linebacker Deone Bucannon against the mobile Russell Wilson tends to give one pause. Bucannon’s ability to run is unmatched by the guys filling in for him, and Wilson is clearly running better than how he did in the first meeting when he was hobbled with injuries.

— The secondary is also hurting. Arians acknowledged cornerback Marcus Cooper probably wouldn’t be able to play Saturday — if he doesn’t play, rookie Brandon Williams (who missed practice Thursday with a tight back) would get the start. Justin Bethel, who did say his foot is finally feeling better after the stress fracture that has hampered him for two seasons, remains behind Williams on the depth chart.

— There doesn’t seem to be any indication Tyrann Mathieu won’t play — the Cards need the bodies right now — but Mathieu playing and Mathieu being Honey Badger are two separate things. Arians on Mathieu’s play against the Saints: “He gave it everything he had. It ain’t Ty.” UPDATE: I guess I was wrong. Mathieu went to IR on Friday.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on whether the defense took last weekend’s meltdown against the Saints personally. “Absolutely we took it personally,” Bettcher said. “There wasn’t a guy on our defensive staff and there wasn’t a guy  in the locker room that wasn’t extremely disappointed in our performance. It wasn’t acceptable, it wasn’t up to our standard, that’s me included. It wasn’t up to my standard. We all own that.”

— Michael Floyd finally met with the New England media and talked about his DUI.

— Larry Fitzgerald said he has talked to David Johnson a lot about how to handle his burgeoning stardom off the field, like Emmitt Smith did with Fitz when Fitz first came into the league. For instance, Fitzgerald told Johnson to be fully dressed and “buttoned-up” when he talks after the game in front of the camera — you never know when a decision-maker at a company might see you and want you to be a spokesman.

“He doesn’t need a lot of advice,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s like a Christmas toy under the tree that doesn’t need any assembly. He’s out-of-the-box-ready.”

— Johnson, by the way, would tie Barry Sanders’ record for consecutive games with 100 scrimmage yards in 15 straight games in a season if he can reach that milestone Saturday.

— Bring on Seattle. Bring on 39 degrees and chilly rain. Bring on what always promises to be an interesting road trip.

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