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Blogs

Considering Alfonso

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2013 – 5:59 pm

Alfonso Smith first came to the Cardinals in April of 2010. It’s been a journey back and forth since then. He’s always flashed talent, but he could never get past guys with more glittering resumes like Tim Hightower/Beanie Wells/Ryan Williams/LaRod Stephens-Howling/Chester Taylor. Last year, in fact, he was released in favor of William Powell at the end of camp. But when Wells and Williams suffered more injuries, the Cards brought Smith back, and it is he and not all the others (save for Williams) who is still around.

Now, everyone is talking about Rashard Mendenhall’s career comeback or what Williams can still do or what draftees Stepfan Taylor or Andre Ellington might be able to do. Smith still has an uphill climb to a roster. He knows this.

“Man, in the past when I was younger it would frustrate me and it would cloud my mind and I wouldn’t perform to the best of my ability,” Smith said. “Now I know sometimes things aren’t in my hands and I just go out there and give it all I got and coaches, fans and y’all (in the media) see hey, I can play. I know those guys have proven themselves too. But I do have talent and I work hard and I am just as good.”

It’s hard not to notice him. You can argue he isn’t always going against the top part of the roster, but Smith looks the part much of the time. And he practices like you’d expect — like he knows his time could be cut short at any point. The other day during 1-on-1 pass protection drills, Smith had a pair of doozies with linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Reggie Walker (below) when he doggedly battled in a setup that are designed to make it very hard for a back to be successful.

“I look at the defense that they are trying to take food out of my mouth, they are trying to take food away from my family,” Smith said. “I take it very personal. When I saw Mendenhall and Ryan (Williams) go out and the defense kind of got the best of them, it pissed me off. That’s like seeing your brothers getting in a fight. I just wanted to go hit the defense in the mouth.”

The numbers say the Cards will keep at least four running backs. Keeping a fifth is usually a luxury. So Smith fights to see if he can stick around yet again.

“(Coaches) don’t really tell me anything but I know when I do well,” Smith said. “I grade myself hard. When I mess up one time out out of the whole practice, I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve got to fix that because I know my window is not as big as theirs and my opportunities are slim.’ That’s all I can do.”


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Powell out as Cards make roster moves

Posted by Darren Urban on July 23, 2013 – 3:05 pm

As #CardsCamp closes in, the Cardinals are adjusting their roster to get ready for stadium workouts. The team hasn’t officially announced moves yet, but the NFL’s official transactions release noted the team cut three players Tuesday: running back William Powell, tight end Kyle Auffray and wide receiver Michael Rios. Rios was cut with a non-football injury, and the undrafted player from Marist missed most of the offseason work with some sort of foot injury.

The same list has the Cards also signing former Notre Dame wide receiver Robby Toma, who was in for a tryout Tuesday. As with the cut players, nothing official has been announced by the team.

If you are scoring at home, that would mean the Cards have a pair of open roster spots right now (not including the one being saved for unsigned Jonathan Cooper, who officially is not taking up a spot until he inks a deal.)

UPDATE: And now it is official via the team. Rios was indeed waived because of a foot problem.


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Skelton cut by Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on April 1, 2013 – 3:14 pm

There is nothing new on the burgeoning Carson Palmer trade front at the moment, but it seems a lock to be completed at some point after the Cardinals officially released quarterback John Skelton Monday. So ends Skelton’s wild ride since arriving as a fifth-round rookie in 2010, getting a couple of starts in that year and then having an amazing way of playing poorly yet rallying the Cards to wins in 2011. Then he beat out Kevin Kolb to start the 2012 season before spraining an ankle in the opener, struggling mightily as the starter after Kolb got hurt. Clearly the relationship between he and former coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn’t good at the end, but even a coaching change couldn’t save Skelton’s roster spot.

Skelton tweeted out his goodbye:

The release wasn’t a big surprise after the team signed Drew Stanton, brought Brian Hoyer back and now are close to getting Palmer. All along it looked unlikely that Skelton would survive into May on the roster if this didn’t come sooner. Now it has. Not that it would’ve helped him, but recalling how Bruce Arians lamented the inability to talk to Kolb while watching video — to ask why and why not of certain plays — maybe Skelton lost out too. Then again, Skelton’s troubles were seen first-hand by general manager Steve Keim. Keim had a good sense of what he had in both Kolb and Skelton, and Skelton ended up — even with an 8-9 starting record — with 12 touchdown passes, 22 interceptions and a 61.9 passer rating in 17 starts.

– The Cardinals also announced that tendered free agents William Powell, Hoyer and Ronald Talley officially signed their contracts. The Hoyer and Talley news had already been out there.

SkeltonCutBLOG


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Catches from the backfield

Posted by Darren Urban on February 19, 2013 – 3:12 pm

Just in case anyone wasn’t sure about new coach Bruce Arians wanting to get the ball downfield if possible in the running game, Arians makes it pretty clear what he wants to see in his running backs.

He wants someone who can run, of course. And block. Beyond that? Let’s just say that fantasy football players in points-per-reception leagues aren’t going to look at the Cardinals first.

“They are back there because they are runners and pass protectors,” Arians said. “Will we throw to the backs? Yeah. But the receivers are the ones paid to catch it. (Running backs) are helping but it’s doubtful our running back leads the team in receiving.”

Last season, injuries crushed the Cards’ running backs, so reception totals don’t correspond perfectly in what the prior staff wanted to do in the passing game, but even Ken Whisenhunt’s pass game didn’t use the backs a ton as receivers (especially after Tim Hightower left.) William Powell had the most catches for a running back last year (19), and that was sixth on the team behind Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd, Rob Housler and Early Doucet. LaRod Stephens-Howling was tied for seventh with tight end Jeff King with his 17 catches. Ryan Williams had seven receptions, Anthony Sherman five and Beanie Wells only had one.

HyphenCatchUSE


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Williams was “scared” and running back questions

Posted by Darren Urban on February 13, 2013 – 10:40 am

When Bruce Arians was first hired, he talked about taking shots downfield, and people getting too hung up on how much a team runs the ball as opposed to how effective it was in the ground game, and how where a team stood on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter ultimately dictated how much a team was going to run.

But he also said “we will have an attack, and we will start with the run.”

Who will be running it? That’s a good question.

I expect Ryan Williams to have the chance to be one of them. As Williams said, he’s got the label of being “damaged goods,” and he has a lot to prove. Between a torn hamstring, ruptured patella tendon and fracture of his left shoulder, his last three years — one at Virginia Tech, two in the NFL — have been forgettable. But he’s feeling a ton better going into 2013 and thinks no one saw the real Williams last year in his brief time because his patella and knee weren’t ready, and he played like it.

“I won’t say I was rushed, but … people don’t even understand what was going through my head when I got that ball,” Williams said. “Say I was running to my left side, my whole right side is exposed. I’m ducking, I’m curling, I don’t want to get touched. The first thing as a running back, you can’t be scared, and those four games, I was scared. I’m not going to lie.”

Even if Williams returns and can do well, he can’t be the only option. Beanie Wells is here in the final year of his contract — he was rehabbing alongside Williams the other morning — and his status is also interesting. The relationship between he and former coach Ken Whisenhunt seemed strained by the end and perhaps Wells benefits from a fresh start. The Cards must decide what to offer unrestricted free agent LaRod Stephens-Howling, who seems likely to hit the open market at this point.

There has been speculation of a connect-the-dots variety that the Cards might go after unrestricted free agent Rashard Mendenhall, whose time with the Pittsburgh Steelers is coming to an end but who performed pretty well for Arians when Arians was offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. Mendenhall has battled a lot of injuries the last two years, however. Then there is the real possibility the Cards use a draft pick at some point. Alfonso Smith and William Powell are still in the mix for now, but again, when you have a new staff and a new offense, it’s hard to know exactly the direction the roster might go.

(In a semi-related note, running back Javarris James, who spent the 2012 season on injured reserve after blowing out his knee in the preseason, has been suspended the first four games of the 2013 season, according to multiple reports. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network said it was for substance abuse. James is an exclusive rights free agent. I’m not sure if the Cards were planning on bringing him back, but this news doesn’t help. James can take part in the offseason/training camp if needed.)

RyWillBlogUSEthis


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Niners aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2012 – 10:02 pm

Vonnie Holliday sat back a bit in his locker in the cramped, outdated visiting locker room at Candlestick Park. He hadn’t yet pulled off his uniform pants or his undershirt, quietly taking in the scene after Sunday’s loss.

Change is coming for the Cardinals. Holliday is part of the inevitable part of that change, even if the Cardinals were 11-5 and not 5-11. At 37, he sounds like he is leaning toward retirement. It was he and not Calais Campbell who was in the starting lineup Sunday at the insistence of his defensive linemates. They knew it was probably Holliday’s last NFL game.

“That’s the kind of guys we have in this room, on this team,” Holliday said. “Great character. Calais kind of joked about it on Saturday and then today, we came into the locker room and he said, ‘I want you to have it.’ It meant a lot to me.”

Holliday’s eyes welled up a bit as he told the story. He doesn’t know yet if he is retiring, but sure sounded like he might be leaning that way. “At some point, the sun sets on us all,” Holliday said. “It’s getting late in the evening for me.”

He mentioned to me last week he might actually want to coach – or more realistically, be a consultant. Already, he’s expecting some of the young defensive linemen to join him in Atlanta to train before the Cards’ offseason work begins.

“The season didn’t play out the way we wanted to play out, but it couldn’t be with a better group of guys,” Holliday said. “All the chances to point fingers or having a divide, guys never did that. It’s been a pleasure.”

Holliday is a class act. The Cards were better for him being in the locker room. Things must change to improve the team, but there was a universal feeling among the players that the character of the roster was impressive.

– As for the actual change that’s coming, I don’t know what will happen. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he expects to be back next season, which is what he should say. We will see how this sorts out and on what timeline upon which it happens. There is this assumption all kinds of things will happen Monday. I’m not saying they won’t, but I don’t know if it’s is a lock they do, either.

– The Cardinals will draft seventh. So there’s that.

– There are a lot of people wondering about the future of defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. Including, I would guess, Dockett.

“I’m not one of those guys who wants to play 15 or 16 years chasing a ring,” Dockett said. “Wherever God takes me, he’ll take me. If it’s here I’m going to give them everything I’ve got. I just want to be somewhere to win a championship and where I’m wanted. And I want to be somewhere where they are committed to winning, standards all the way around.”

But Dockett went on to talk like a guy who wasn’t trying to get out.

“At the end of the day my loyalty is with the Cardinals,” he said. “I have given this organization everything I’ve got. I love playing here. I love some of the talent we’ve got. At the end of the day, we have to find a way for us to compete for a championship.”

– Running back Beanie Wells wasn’t into analyzing why he didn’t play Sunday despite being active. His fumble last week didn’t help. Whiz said he wanted  to ride William Powell’s hot hand, and Powell did start well (50 first-half yards on 12 carries). I’m not sure Wells’ thoughts that he’d be moving on from the Cards after the season helped the cause.

– There were a few times when left guard Daryn Colledge and left tackle D’Anthony Batise swapped places. “It was an opportunity to kind of keep him guessing on what was going on and keeping fresh legs on the guy,” Colledge said. “Just kind of change it up and see how they reacted to it.”

– A rough year for Larry Fitzgerald ended with a two-catch-for-13-yard game.

“Yeah, it wears your patience pretty thin,” Fitzgerald said of the season. “(But) acting out, being a jerk, causing a scene doesn’t make anything any better either so at this point it’s important to make sure you’re a part of the solution and not part of the problem, going out and working hard every day in practice  and doing everything you can in your power to make this team better. I’m just trying to stay that course.”

– The team gets together for a final meeting Monday morning. We’ll see how the morning turns out. I’ll be on Twitter (@cardschatter) for immediate updates and azcardinals.com for all the news.

AfterNinerBlogShotAdrianUSE


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Beanie and the future at running back

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2012 – 9:45 am

When Beanie Wells said on Christmas Eve he thought it was “inevitable” he would be moving on from the Cardinals, it spotlighted what will be one of the positions that will see scrutiny this offseason.

Beanie could be brought back — his rookie contract runs through next season — but will the Cards want that? Beanie acknowledged “it’s a performance-based business and I don’t know if I’ve done things up to our organization’s standards here.” He’s had flashes, like his dominance against the Giants and the Rams last season, but those games came few and far between. Up until this season, he actually missed fewer games than many thought, but the constant storyline of his various aliments were what stuck in many fans’ minds. (It didn’t help that both Beanie and the team remained incredibly vague about some injuries, particularly his knee issues.)

Back in 2009, the top three running backs drafted were Knowshon Moreno by the Broncos (12th), Donald Brown by the Colts (27th) and Wells (31st). None have really sparkled, although Moreno, given a chance to return from the scrap heap of late after Willis McGahee’s injury, has done well. Beanie certainly showed — especially as a rookie — he could be special. He just didn’t do it often enough, and the problems at quarterback have not helped.

Bigger picture, the Cardinals will need to reassess where they are at the spot. Ryan Williams told me today he feels the best he has in two years with the Cards. His rehab has gone well with his shoulder — he is due a final surgery this week as a follow-up, he said — and the knee wrecked in 2011 is in great shape. He said he will be full-go in the offseason for the first time this spring. But again, Williams has to stay healthy for him to make an impact, and he hasn’t been in two seasons.

LaRod Stephens-Howling, who will be an unrestricted free agent in March, has not gotten a contract extension offer yet from the team. The Cardinals do want to bring him back, but it’s looking more and more like the Hyphen (below) will be allowed to test the market first. From there, anything can happen.

Guys like William Powell and Alfonso Smith will probably be kept around this offseason, but their future I’d guess will tie directly into what direction the team goes with the rest of the running back unit.

It’ll start with the decision on Beanie, however. When everyone is healthy, Beanie is the starter. Or at least he has been. We’ll see if the vibe Wells has is accurate.

HyphenRBuse


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Bears aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 23, 2012 – 8:25 pm

One more to go. No more at home. And as I write this the 49ers-Seahawks game is on in the background, and the Seahawks continue to look like the real deal –while the Niners are, one way or the other, going to need that game next week against the Cardinals. Once there was thought it could be about resting. Not anymore. That’s going to make it even more of a difficult finale for the Cards.

Who will coach Ken Whisenhunt go with at quarterback? My money is on Brian Hoyer but since it’s not really my money, who knows. I thought Hoyer looked decent and surprisingly comfortable out there, although he didn’t produce any points and still threw an interception. No one is sitting there saying he’s the answer and the likelihood he’s a long-term solution is small, but again, it’s about looking at every option because, well, why wouldn’t you?

– Seems like forever ago the Cards last blocked a field goal, and then Adrian Wilson got one that Justin Bethel turned into points (below). Fitting that it came at the end of Wilson’s game, which could be his final one at UoP? Well, Wilson wasn’t in the mood to go there. Not really.

Wilson was asked about that final game. “I haven’t thought about it one bit, until (the media) continuously bring it up,” Wilson said. “If they make a decision, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be pretty quick. If they don’t, OK. Either way I go, I’m a good player. We’ll see what happens.”

– Whisenhunt noted that the pick-6s are really hurting the Cards. After Sunday’s TD by the Bears’ Charles Tillman, the Cards have given up five of them this season – way too many. As for trying to find a QB, “it’s not fun, but we keep working at it,” Whisenhunt said.

– The relationship between Whiz and running back Beanie Wells probably wasn’t helped by Beanie’s fumble on his own 1-yard line, which was recovered by the Bears for a touchdown. Beanie slipped – that happens – but he dropped the ball as he slipped without being hit. He got a talking-to by Whisenhunt afterward.

Whiz said he couldn’t explain it. “From what I saw, obviously you can’t put the ball on the ground, especially not there,” Whisenhunt said. Beanie said he didn’t get hurt on the play, and as for what Whiz told him, “It is what it is,” Wells said. “Who knows how it’s going to turn out from here.”

– How it turned out Sunday was that Wells got exactly one more carry the rest of the game as the Cards instead used LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell at running back. Beanie noted that everyone on the Cards is “fighting for jobs, whether it’s going to be here or somewhere else.” Wells is under contract for 2013 and with a lot of uncertainty (Ryan Williams health, Stephens-Howling free agency) the Cards wouldn’t just let him go even if they wanted to make a change. But it’s fair to wonder about Wells’ future.

– Given the Cards’ offense, I really didn’t have an issue trying a fake punt. Not sure I’d be comfortable with Feely rolling left, but really, with that offense, you aren’t expecting many points. Field goals weren’t going to do it.

– I know ultimately it came too little too late, but it was nice to see Fitz get more than 100 yards, and it was nice to see some accurate passes thrown in his direction.

– Dave Zastudil, current NFL record holder. Can he hold on to his two-punts-downed-inside-the-20 lead over Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt and keep that record? Who says there won’t be Week 17 suspense?

OK. A normal Monday coming up, even if it is Christmas Eve. We’ll be working it, and then enjoying the holiday. Hope you all do too. One more to go in the 2012 season.

BearsAfterUSE


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Seeing things on the run

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2012 – 10:56 am

The Cardinals need better play at quarterback. Everyone gets that. But that hope they had for their running game before the season, taking some pressure off whomever would be playing QB, has dissolved.

There have been moments, for sure. LaRod Stephens-Howling, who got off to an awful start this season in limited time, has had a couple of 100-yard games. But the Hyphen also leads the team in rushing with 313 yards on 92 carries — both easily tops on the team — and considering what was expected for Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells before the year, that isn’t a good sign.

Even in the games Stephens-Howling shined, the Cardinals had trouble converting short-yardage downs for first downs. Beanie’s return was supposed to help that, but against the Jets, when Wells couldn’t grind out a couple of yards on back-to-back third- and fourth-downs early in the game, it was a deflating moment for an offense that didn’t need one. Williams wasn’t effective enough when he played prior to his season-ending shoulder injury (2.8 yards a carry) and Wells has struggled mightily this season. He is averaging just 2.4 yards a carry and while he acknowledged his knee was not healthy before he spent his eight-week stint on IR, he was back to being limited following his season re-debut against the Rams and still looked like he had some trouble against the Jets.

“I don’t know if I would say it was a setback,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “But you’re going to always have some reactions when you get back into playing (off a long-term injury). We said a couple weeks ago that we’re not under any illusion that he’s going to come back in and be perfect. I think that’s normal.”

The team’s top back has been William Powell, who has averaged 4.2 yards a carry over 32 totes (I could have said safety Rashad Johnson, who has pulled off a pair of beautiful fake punts for 24 and 40 yards.) Some of this falls on the offensive line issues, because the holes have not always been there. Some of it falls on the passing game/QB play, because defenses can afford to focus on stopping the run first since the passing game hasn’t been good enough. Some of it is on the backs, failing to maximize production when holes have been there. Some too can be attributed to the play calls too I am sure. As Whisenhunt has said many times, nothing has been good enough to leave out of the equation.

The Cardinals started the season by rushing for just 43 yards on 20 carries in a win against the Seahawks, the team they play this weekend, and that included a 15-yard end-around by wide receiver Andre Roberts. Whoever is installed at QB this weekend could use more production than that to give the Cards’ offense a chance.

rungameblogUSE


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Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 25, 2012 – 8:25 pm

The Cardinals know the criticism is coming, know it has been coming, know what’s being said. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was acknowledging speculation on his job security was “part of the business.” Linebacker Quentin Groves, meanwhile, was saying the Cards have to pull together because that’s their only option.

“We’re all we got,” Groves said. “We have to stick together as a family, as a team and then just say we’re all we got. The fans turn on you, the media turns on you, and at the same time those 62 guys in the locker room (it’s 61, counting practice squad, to be accurate) have to band together with the coaches as well as say we’re all we got, and go out and play.”

There isn’t much more to say on that. Obviously I’ve been through these losing streaks the last couple of years (and yes, so too have you) and I know what’s coming from you and in the comments below. No need to rehash them weekly. Sunday was a bad loss, especially after building early leads. Two road games are coming, in New York and in Seattle. Nothing simple about breaking the streak in either place.

Anyway, on to some game specifics:

– Ryan Lindley looked so … solid on that first drive. He was accurate. He was smart. And then it went off the rails. The interceptions, save for the last one (which I didn’t get a good look at), all looked like throws a rookie quarterback would make. The last pick-6, trying to throw something deep off a back foot, that looked particularly like a rookie. Doesn’t make it OK, but it wasn’t surprising.

The question is what now? Whiz acknowledged he thought about  taking Lindley out but didn’t. It’s tough for a team, though, knowing Lindley was in there two weeks in a row with a lead and the job could not be finished. The Rams didn’t come after Lindley right away. You have to wonder, with a Jets team reeling and with nothing to lose, what Rex Ryan might unleash on an inexperienced QB.

– Somehow, the Cards lost two games to the Rams this season when quarterback Sam Bradford completed a total of 15 passes in two games. Never thought that’d be possible.

– Having Beanie Wells made a difference early, but it felt like the Rams finally said defensively they wanted to make Lindley beat them, and he couldn’t, and that was that.

– Daryl Washington got his ninth sack and Patrick Peterson his fourth interception, and both were nice plays and helpful at the time. But defensively, the Cards let the Rams flip field position too many times. The big plays, like the first time against the Rams, bit the Cards. So too did Steven Jackson’s 139 yards rushing.

– Interesting that the game in which Todd Heap is essentially a healthy scratch, Rob Housler ends up with his best game so far (8 catches for 82 yards). Whether it was the defensive scheme or not, Lindley seemed to have a comfort level with Housler.

– Clearly, LaRod Stephens-Howling was having issues with his sore ribs. So William Powell got more time and chipped in six catches for 63 yards in that third-down back role.

– The question of the week will be Kevin Kolb’s health and Lindley’s status. As of now I’d assume Lindley is staying in there if Kolb isn’t healthy, but to be honest, Whisenhunt didn’t say that. The Jets will have extra time to prepare, but they’ve been pretty bad. Next week will be interesting. I don’t have much more to say about this week.


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