Back from Canton, back to work

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2010 – 12:26 pm

The Cardinals returned to practice after the weekend off — and the coaches are back from Russ Grimm’s induction to Canton (although not Russ quite yet; he’ll be back this afternoon). Among the highlights this morning:

— One tight end returns (Anthony Becht) just as another goes down (Dominique Byrd — hamstring). Coach Ken Whisenhunt did say Ben Patrick (knee) is coming along faster than expected. We’ll see if that really will mean anything down the road.

— DRC did pick off Matt Leinart this morning, but probably held Steve Breaston a little (or a lot?). Call it the reverse Fitz push.

— CB Greg Toler had another interception this morning. It’s good that he’s made some plays. Tru McBride is still running with the ones (he was back from his groin injury) but Toler seems to be making a push forward.

— WR Stephen Williams was on display again, catching a TD on an end zone fade from Derek Anderson in 7-on-7 and then grabbing a 50-some yard TD bomb from John Skelton on a purposely underthrown pass later.

— Leinart was optimistic on the first-team offense so far: “I think he have showed a lot of what we can potentially be.”

— Asked if he knew who No. 14 was on the team — it’s Williams — Leinart smiled and said, “The Playmaker!”

— Whisenhunt said LB Paris Lenon has distanced himself from the other middle linebackers and has shown “a lot of leadership.” That’s a good sign at a position where the Cards need good signs.

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A week of impressions

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2010 – 10:30 am

The Cardinals are off until Monday, when they return with two practices. By then, coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistants Matt Raich, Kevin Spencer, Mike Miller and Chad Grimm will be back from Canton where they attended the induction ceremony for Russ Grimm. So too will players Alan Faneca, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, who went for both Grimm and their former Steelers coach Dick LeBeau.

By then, I’ll be back in Flagstaff too.

Anyway, it’s a good time to assess where the Cards are (although it’s only fair to note Whisenhunt’s point that you don’t want to too quickly judge anything). But remember, these are just my opinions and not absolutes, so please, no wagering.

I suppose we start with the quarterbacks. While Derek Anderson did lead the offense to the lone touchdown Saturday, I still think Leinart played a bit better during the week as a whole. And the way Whisenhunt talked about Leinart after Saturday’s work  — “I thought Matt did good” and “We just have to look at the tape and correct it and move forward” – sounded like Leinart remains in good standing. We’re not going to know until the preseason games anyway.

The battle between Max Hall and John Skelton is going to be very interesting. I don’t know if Skelton can really “catch” Hall before the regular season, given how much experience Hall had in college compared to Skelton’s experience. But Skelton’s potential is the wild card here.

For now, Tim Hightower remains running with the No. 1, but Beanie Wells has gotten reps with the starters. It truly feels like a split situation, which is probably how it will be during the season (although Beanie will end up with more carries, I am sure).

Whisenhunt isn’t necessarily going to mix and match his offensive linemen. I will be surprised if the line changes much to be honest; I think extra weight or no Deuce Lutui has looked pretty good thus far. Then again, he has been going against the “2s” a lot of the time. Deuce vs. Reggie Wells will be the battle of the preseason, but the weight thing is going to be a factor.

The Cards need some health. They are short at tight end and fullback going into the second week. Whisenhunt already said he doesn’t want to make a roster move; they need Anthony Becht and/or Jim Dray to come back.

The cornerback position is definitely one to watch. DRC is fine and we all know that. Other than that … I have said this many times before and I’ll say it again, I still think this team chases a cornerback at the end of preseason – someone released by another team — that will be in the mix.

Now, at linebacker, it may be a little different. Not having Gerald Hayes is still a concern (especially reports he will be out into September, and even then he’ll be so far behind physically). But there is a better feeling about Paris Lenon after a week of camp. We’ll see if the Cards look at bringing in an inside ‘backer on the waiver wire too.

Before I forget, Dustin Stover wants everyone to know he’s OK and was back to work both Friday afternoon and Saturday. Who is Dustin you ask? He’s the ball boy. He actually wouldn’t mind seeing video just to see what happened. And everything is good between him and Skelton. (Oh, and we have a photo too? Sorry Dustin).

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Patrick should be back for regular season

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2010 – 12:35 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said tight end Ben Patrick should be back for the regular season after hurting his left knee at practice last night.

“It wasn’t as bad as we thought it was when he was down on the field or what we thought afterward,” Whisenhunt said. “He displaced his kneecap, it’s back in, but there is no ligament damage. It’ll be a few weeks and he should be able to return. It was a lot better news than what we thought last night.”

Whisenhunt said the Cards will try and make it through Saturday with their current tight ends. Whiz doesn’t want to make a roster move, but right now, Stephen Spach and Dominique Byrd are the only healthy tight ends. Jim Dray (quad) and Anthony Becht (back) have been sitting out, although Whisenhunt said he hopes both will be back soon. Long snapper Mike Leach, who is a tight end by trade, can fill in as well.

— As for his thoughts on the night practice, Whisenhunt said “we had some mental mistakes but we have to work through them and that’s why you have those practices.”

— The coach praised the camp so far of new left tackle Levi Brown.

— As for the constant trash talking, Whisenhunt said it was part of the intensity of camp. “A lot of that chatter, that goes back to the team making each other accountable,” he said.

— A tidbit from quarterback Matt Leinart —  he took his offensive linemen on a trip to Hawaii this offseason, helping the bonding effort. Yes, Leinart paid. (UPDATE: Turns out he brought Levi Brown, Brandon Keith, Lyle Sendlein and Jeremy Bridges. Alan Faneca was already in Hawaii).

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Stuff from practice, like Dub’s new number

Posted by Darren Urban on August 4, 2010 – 1:45 pm

So much to talk about from this morning and lunch time. Let’s get to it, shall we?

— Practice was light this morning. That’s what happens when you have practiced heavy the previous two afternoons and you have a heavy practice planned in the evening, which the Cards do under the lights at Coconino High School.

— Remember the bad day rookie receiver Andre Roberts had a couple of days ago? Apparently Roberts doesn’t. Today he made a nice catch at the back of the end zone on a pass from Max Hall, snagging it while keeping his feet inbounds.

— On the injury list, linebacker Reggie Walker was back to work. Cornerback Rashad Barksdale has a left foot injury, and tight end Anthony Becht is nursing a mild back issue. Tight end Jim Dray (quad) is still sidelined. Safety Hamza Abdullah remains out with a bad hamstring, which is why the Cards brought in safety Aaron Rouse. The other day, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, starting safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes actually had to take reps with the third-string defense because the Cards were short at the position.

— Former Cardinal defensive end Bertrand Berry was back at camp. He’s a media member now, trying to get started in the business. He came up to do a series of web pieces for about camp, beginning with a story on Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. “I’m just trying to learn the other side,” Berry said. Berry’s first video will be posted Aug. 6.

— Whisenhunt said the Cardinals were happy to get another chance at linebacker Pago Togafau, whom they lost off the practice squad last season. But it meant releasing Ali Highsmith because Whiz felt the team couldn’t get too heavy at the position. It hurts the Cards that two of the players hurt right now but counting against the 80-man roster are linebackers: Gerald Hayes and O’Brien Schofield.

— Speaking of inside linebacker, Whisenhunt has no thoughts right now on where they all stand. “I have to see more and get more information,” Whisenhunt said. “A lot will play out in the preseason games.”

— Finally, Adrian Wilson, once again, was sporting a new jersey number out at practice. The man who has made getting a different jersey number at practice a habit didn’t have the No. 9 (his high school number) on for the first time. Instead, he was wearing 5/53 — as in, a No. 53, but with the “3” blocked out on the front and back with trainers’ tape.

“Camp is monotonous,” Wilson deadpanned. “You gotta do something. I can’t grow a (expletive) beard.” He laughed when it was pointed out he did have some serious chin hairs, retorting, “I’ve had this for 30 years.”

Why a 53 with the 3 covered up? “Just wanted to feel like I was still a DB,” Wilson said. “Had the ‘5’ showing, but I had the ’53’ on the shoulder because I hit like a linebacker and cover like a safety. Know what I am saying?”

Indeed we do.

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An afternoon in the sun

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2010 – 5:45 pm

So that’s what it’s like to have a practice outside.

There were a few drops early on but never anything to worry about, and generally the weather was great for Tuesday’s practice. With that as your mental background, some kibbles and bits about today:

— Apparently, it was veterans’ day. Tight end Anthony Becht, defensive lineman Bryan Robinson and linebacker Joey Porter all took the day off, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of injury (Coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t speak after practice so we weren’t able to ask about Tuesday’s new injuries, which included the walking boot on the left foot of cornerback Rashad Barksdale and whatever is wrong with linebacker Reggie Walker. Still out are tight end Jim Dray (quad), saftey Hamza Abdullah (hamstring), linebacker Gerald Hayes (back) and linebacker O’Brien Schofield (knee).

— Hayes was into it. At one point during running battles that included everyone but cornerbacks and wide receivers, the offense cracked some gains on a couple of plays. Hayes, watching intently along with Porter, screamed some not-safe-for-work words to his defensive mates, imploring them to crack down.

— Wide receiver Andre Roberts looked much better catching the ball today after yesterday’s struggles.

— Rookie Dan Williams’ first practice was about what you’d expect. He looked fine, but was definitely out of breath. It’s tough practicing in full pads for the first time since college at 7,000 feet.

— I have been impressed with RT Brandon Keith. I haven’t watched him every play, but I have yet to see him get beat and he just looks so solid. Darnell Dockett has been ripping things up, but on one pass rush during 11-on-11, Keith shut Dockett down.

— Finally, we had some fists-of-fury spillover from yesterday, featuring WR Larry Fitzgerald and CB Michael Adams. I’m not sure exactly what went down on the pass to Fitz that eventually fell incomplete, but someone was unhappy, and Fitzgerald lowered the boom on Adams with a big head slap that knocked Adams’ helmet off. The two suddenly squared off, with both daring the other to fight and Adams actually raising his fists in front of him like a boxer. Adams was quickly pulled away by teammates, and later, the two were made to hug it out.

“It was just a normal Fitz-and-Mike day,” Adams said afterward. “If Mike gets the better of Fitz … you can take it back to my rookie year, me and Fitz. We get into scuffles all the time. I get a little bit emotional at times. I guess it is that short man’s syndrome in me.”

Then Adams joked about Monday’s scraps, noting “I told Fitz yesterday I was going to start a fight today because everyone else was. I figure I’d try one.”

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Youth is served

Posted by Darren Urban on July 13, 2010 – 4:58 pm

When I pointed out to a journalist friend of mine that I felt old when I was looking at the Cards’ roster and saw a handful of players who were born the year I graduated high school — 1988 — he pointed out that would be a great story. Talk to these guys about what they knew about the Cards, since that was the same year the Cardinals moved to Arizona. So I did just that, with running back Beanie Wells, receiver Andre Roberts, quarterback John Skelton and cornerback A.J. Jefferson.

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me as time marches on. But when you peruse the Cardinals’ alphabetical roster — the one with the players’ birthdates — and you see all the guys who seem to be born so recently. Obviously, we are pre-training camp, so there are more younger guys than usual, but of the 85 guys still around (remember, the team must cut a player every time one of the five remaining unsigned draft picks signs) 39 were born in 1985 or later. The youngest guy remains Wells, who doesn’t turn 22 until Aug. 7. Eleven guys were born in the 1970s. They are, in order of oldest to youngest: P Ben Graham (1973), NT Bryan Robinson (1974), K Jay Feely, TE Anthony Becht, LS Mike Leach and G Alan Faneca (1977), LBs Clark Haggans, Joey Porter and Paris Lenon (1977), LB Monty Beisel (1978) and S Adrian Wilson (1979).

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Expiring minds want to know

Posted by Darren Urban on June 30, 2010 – 10:02 am

If the NBA has the Summer of 2010, the NFL – right now – is staring at the Summer of 2011.

The lack of a new collective bargaining agreement and the possibility of a work stoppage after the 2010 season has slowed the talk of contract extensions throughout the league. Judgments aside, that’s just a fact. Teams and players don’t know what free agency will look like next March (or later; until a new CBA is put in place, there will be no free agency movement). It’ll affect every team around the league. That is also a fact.

Closer to home, though, it looks like it’ll make for one, um, let’s say interesting offseason for the Cardinals. Here are the key players on the team right now who are not under contract past 2010 and are scheduled to have their contracts expire after this season:

  • P Ben Graham
  • WR Steve Breaston
  • S Matt Ware
  • CB Michael Adams
  • RB Jason Wright
  • RB Tim Hightower
  • LB Monty Beisel
  • C Lyle Sendlein
  • G Alan Faneca
  • T Brandon Keith
  • G Reggie Wells
  • G Deuce Lutui
  • DT Alan Branch
  • WR Early Doucet
  • TE Anthony Becht
  • TE Ben Patrick
  • DE Kenny Iwebema
  • DT Bryan Robinson
  • DT Gabe Watson

Obviously, some players are more important that others. Some may not even make the roster this season. And some figure to be still under restricted FA status next season even with a new CBA (guys like Doucet, Keith and Iwebema, for instance). But again, you don’t know how it turns out. That also doesn’t include three major key players who, while all under contract through 2011, will need extensions by next offseason to make sure they stay in Arizona: WR Larry Fitzgerald, DL Darnell Dockett and (assuming he plays as the Cards hope) QB Matt Leinart.

It’s quite the list. I find it hard to believe, if there is a delay in free agency that there won’t be some short moratorium to let teams get their FA ducks in a row before the market is flooded with UFAs. But you never know.

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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 15, 2010 – 6:55 pm

OK kids. Here is part two – The Final Chapter — of my starting lineup blog guesses. Today is the offense, after I offered up the defense yesterday. There seems to be less in flux on the offensive side of the ball, so these are my thoughts of who will be on the field when the Cards go against the Rams in St. Louis Sept. 12:

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz had a big year with touchdowns but his yardage shrunk. With Anquan Boldin gone, I’d expect Fitz to look for more of everything.

WR – Steve Breaston. Breaston has proven he can be a good receiver in this league. Assuming Early Doucet stays healthy, the Cardinals will still be in good shape at wideout.

FB – Nehemiah Broughton. The position is open, but the Cards liked what they saw from Broughton late last season once they signed him. They will need a bruiser to help in what is expected to be a more prominent run game.

RB – Tim Hightower. Ahh, the most “controversial” of the starting calls. Will I be shocked if Beanie Wells is starting in St. Louis? No. Could Hightower start Game One and then have Wells move in? Sure. Might they stay Hightower-Wells all season as last year? Yes. Have I mentioned before it doesn’t matter? I am feeling pretty good in saying Beanie will have more carries and be the leading rusher. The other details are window dressing.

TE – Ben Patrick. This is a hunch. They like how Anthony Becht blocks, and I believe Becht will again play a role. I think Patrick would have been in a better spot last season had he not been suspended to start the regular schedule. Patrick can catch, Becht can block. A better, pretty interesting question is whether Dominique Byrd, Stephen Spach or even Jim Dray can find a way into the mix. But that’s for a blog on another day.

LT – Levi Brown. Since the day he arrived, Levi said he felt better at left tackle. Now he gets his chance to show it. Along with more running – the part of the game he is better at – the Cards hope Brown really blossoms.

LG – Alan Faneca. I know coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t guarantee anything when Faneca signed, but he’s going to be in the lineup and he’s going to be at left guard. The guy has made nine straight Pro Bowls.

C – Lyle Sendlein. I don’t know if Rex Hadnot can slip in here, but Hadnot was playing guard this offseason with Ben Claxton running second team. Again, Sendlein has always been a favorite of Russ Grimm. I think that makes an impact.

RG – Deuce Lutui. Here is the upset pick (and remember, this is my gut – not necessarily because I know it to be true). Reggie Wells will have a good chance to hold on to this spot and Lutui must prove he is a) in decent shape and b) not too far behind after missing all the offseason work. But Lutui is a guy this team wants around long-term and someone they were pleased with the second half of the season.

RT – Brandon Keith. This is what they have been grooming Keith for the past two seasons. Herman Johnson may have a spot on the line in the future, but this is where they see if Keith is ready. Considering how little Keith has played, I think that confidence level is remarkably high.

QB – Matt Leinart. Derek Anderson may be sitting in the background (yes, I’m playing off the photo below) but this is Leinart’s job to lose and his team to lead. No reason to hash and re-hash everything we’ve already said. We’ll see what happens. But Leinart will get his chance to show what he can do after his Warner tutelage.

OK, that’s wraps it up. Catch you all in a couple weeks.

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Whiz talks volunteers, Porter, McNabb

Posted by Darren Urban on April 1, 2010 – 11:48 am

Coach Ken Whisenhunt just met briefly with the media on few subjects.

— On the impressive attendance at voluntary workouts: “Everyone is accounted for. There are a couple of guys that aren’t here that called us — which they aren’t required to do, obviously, but they thought enough of the team to call to say they had other commitments. For instance, Larry (Fitzgerald) is in India doing some charity things and he will be back next week. Everybody that is on the team now is accounted for and is either here or is going to be here. That is exciting, to have that many guys working.”

For the record (since I mentioned the players the other day), defensive tackle Alan Branch is here today, leaving just Fitz, Darnell Dockett and Anthony Becht as the players who have yet to arrive.

— On both the arrest and subsequent exoneration of linebacker Joey Porter: “He immediately called me and told me what was going on, and discussed what happened. I have a history with Joey. I believed what he told me — his side of it — and I felt confident in that. The way it has come out, there was a lot of truth to what Joey said. I think the way he handled it, and we are pleased with how it ended up the way it did … it makes it difficult because of what Joey had to go through, because it was out there. I am glad it was cleared up but Joey did a good job making sure the first thing he did was contact us and give us his side of it and making sure we were comfortable with what he said.”

— On Donovan McNabb and stories he wants to play for the Cards: “As of right now, he is with another football team, so it is not something I can comment on. Obviously you see all the reports in the news media and I have known Donovan from being on the field with him. He’s a good football player and a good person and hopefully things work out for him the way he wants them to.”

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An impressive turnout and the preseason sked

Posted by Darren Urban on March 30, 2010 – 2:18 pm

The offseason workout program is only two days old and with 61 players officially on the roster, 57 of them have shown up for at least one of the two voluntary days (and most have been here both days). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been in India, but he’s a guy who’ll show up as soon as he is back in town. And I am hearing that defensive tackle Darnell Dockett may also show up next week (the only others who have yet to make an appearance are tight end Anthony Becht and defensive tackle Alan Branch, but I am sure both will be here sooner rather than later). Obviously, that doesn’t include guard Deuce Lutui, the restricted free agent who cannot participate until he signs his tender offer.

On another subject, the NFL is set to announce the full preseason schedule tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon Arizona time. The regular schedule is still another couple weeks away as usual, but at least there will be a taste of what is to come (my bet: The Cards finish the preseason with a home game against the Broncos. I’m not going out on too far of a limb, am I?)

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