Friday before the Bears, a preseason meme

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2017 – 2:49 pm

The Bears, the Cardinals and really, who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bullspit? Bullspit!

I know it’s only Week 2 for the Bears — and frankly, for the Cardinals, who aren’t marching their main guys out for a half until next week’s Week 4/Week 3 game in Atlanta — so again, this is more of a ramp-up game. Bruce Arians isn’t calling plays until next week (that falls on QB coach Byron Leftwich again.) There will be around 20 plays for the starters, although as usual it could be less if each unit is effective. The biggest story in the game will probably be Chicago QBs Mike Glennon vs. Mitchell Trubisky, so we can see how Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson and company can mess with the immediate Bears future.

(In ’06, that Bears preseason game was Matt Leinart’s second appearance in the NFL, after playing on only a couple of days of practice — he signed late — in New England the week before. Leinart vs Warner. Those were the days.)

— It’ll be the first game for left tackle D.J. Humphries. Arians said Humphries did fine in his first practice Wednesday. I thought he had a slow start to Thursday’s work. As with the whole offensive line, he needs to ramp up — although again, with so much camp, there is plenty of time to get ready.

— Speaking of getting ready, the same goes for linebacker Karlos Dansby, who has been bothered by a leg issue. Deone Bucannon is ostensibly still on target to return to practice likely after the preseason games are over. Maybe a couple of days before. That inside linebacker crew could be a juggling situation for the first game. Haason Reddick is clearly still learning, and Scooby Wright, while solid on special teams, has shortcomings on defense. Both are players to watch against the Bears.

— DT Robert Nkemdiche has played well in the preseason but this week, the coaching clearly got harder. Nkemdiche is doing the right things as far as effort and intensity. But the technique must improve, because that is what will beat the better players in the regular season. Everyone has the talent.

— Others I’ll be watching in particular this week: Both punters; Kerwynn Williams on another punt return or two; the down-depth-chart receivers like Carlton Agudosi and Chris Hubert in particular since Brittan Golden (groin) likely won’t play; Justin Bethel and Tramon Williams (I haven’t forgotten about CB No. 2); and more Budda Baker.

— It’d be nice to see a little David Johnson but not too much.

— I’ll be curious to see how much John Brown plays. Smoke did much more in practice this week. But he certainly is not 100 percent, and the trainers keep a close eye on that quad injury. Still, Brown made some plays Thursday, and after one touchdown Larry Fitzgerald made sure everyone knew it was Smoke and then made sure to give Brown the side-five.

— Fitz, by the way, seemed like he was having a great time Thursday. For a guy who is usually tops on the list of wishing training camp wasn’t so long, it didn’t seem to be impacting him. That’s probably good, because after the game, there’s still one week left.


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After practice: Gump goes headless

Posted by Darren Urban on August 17, 2017 – 4:50 pm

The final practice of the week Thursday didn’t have a ton of flavor. Featuring cards and simulated Bears offensive and defensive plays to prep each side of the ball for Saturday’s game, there wasn’t a lot to draw upon. But afterward it was kind of interesting. Rookie cornerback Gump Hayes came off the field holding shoulder pads and helmets of veterans. That’s not unusual. What was unusual was that he had five sets not including his own — including one balanced on his head, turning Hayes “headless” — and that the players he was helping out were walking with him.

Patrick Peterson even directed him to do an interview with the media, although Peterson asked the questions — addressing Hayes by his given name, De’Chavon.

— As for the actual practice, the receivers looked fairly solid. Rookie Carlton Agudosi returned to practice after hurting his knee last week and made a couple of nice catches, including a touchdown in the red zone. I doubt Agudosi makes the 53-man roster, but he could be intriguing for the future.

— S Harlan Miller made an interception, and had one Wednesday and had he almost had one Tuesday.

— WR Chris Hubert, he of “He’s always wide-ass open” fame, got wide-ass open deep for a touchdown bomb.

— CB Justin Bethel had an interception, but in real life it wouldn’t have been a pick because the Bears quarterback — the offense was running a Chicago play — would have been sacked on a Tyrann Mathieu safety blitz first.

— LT D.J. Humphries seemed to have a slow start to practice, but he rallied later for some solid snaps.

— After the game Saturday, the Cardinals come back Monday for a practice. One week left of training camp, with three practices open to the public.


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After practice: Nkemdiche as teaching tool

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2017 – 4:51 pm

There is a flip side to teaching Robert Nkemdiche, who, make no mistake, is still trying to learn how to play his position on the defensive line. Every day, you can see Nkemdiche’s power and athleticism and effort as he tries to bury his disappointing rookie season, but in technique and discipline (making sure he doesn’t jump offsides), he is still in-progress.

But the power/athleticism/effort also gives offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin a powerful tool when it comes to teaching his young players. Specifically, rookie fourth-round guard Dorian Johnson, who many times has been set up to face Nkemdiche. Before these matchups, Goodwin talks to Nkemdiche as much as Johnson, and given the intensity in which Nkemdiche attacks, it’s some serious on-the-job training.

The final one-on-one rep was a Nkemdiche win, pushing Johnson way back. Clearly Johnson isn’t ready to play this season, but this is how he gets better, and that Nkemdiche can help in the cause is an interesting turn, given where he was at as a player last season when he was a rookie.

— Left tackle D.J. Humphries was out working with the first unit most of practice for the first time since hurting his hamstring. “This whole situation kind of taught me to listen to my body a little bit, that you’re not in college anymore,” Humphries said. “It felt good today.”

— Wide receiver John Brown did look better at practice, making a handful of receptions in 11-on-11.

— Veteran receiver Jeremy Ross has picked up his play the last couple of days. And he looked like he was running ahead of J.J. Nelson Wednesday.

— Tight end Ifeanyi Momah made another nice reception and like previous camps, has proven himself as a receiver. They already like his special teams work. He should have a spot on the roster. He needs to continue to work on his blocking.

— LB Terrence Waugh left practice with some sort of leg injury.

— Earlier in the day, Bruce Arians noted that the best down-the-depth-chart receiver had been “‘Little Smoke” Chris Hubert. “He’s been wide-ass open,” Arians said. “We just haven’t hit him.” Early in practice, Hubert ran a nice route to the right sideline of the end zone, and he was wide open. Blaine Gabbert’s pass was too wide, however.

— Patrick Peterson made a nice interception, running the route ahead of wide receiver Jaron Brown. Safety Harlan Miller also had a pick. Rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, back from an ankle issue, had an impressive diving TD catch.

— The first-team offense ran a quick screen to Jaron Brown. Tyrann Mathieu smelled it out and would have made a quick line-of-scrimmage tackle, if, you know, they were actually tackling. “C’mon dog, you gotta set it up better than that!” Mathieu yelled. “Too easy! Too easy!”


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A quiet Arians is a scary Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 12:20 pm

J.J. Nelson mentioned Monday that while Bruce Arians had made it known he was not happy with the wide receivers, he was “saying it in a nice way.”

Yeah, well, that’s not a good thing.

“I was very nice about it,” Arians said Tuesday, very even-keeled while speaking on the subject. “I said (GM) Steve (Keim) is upstairs right now looking at tape for more new (receivers).”

That was probably a B.A.-mic drop moment. “I don’t really give a s*** what they think,” Arians said. “They were told real quietly and that scared them.”

It reminded me of my parents — and probably many parents. I know I’ve done it with my kids. Getting yelled at isn’t good, but when the tone gets quiet and perhaps a little more deliberate, something not so good is going down.

“If I’m hollering, I’m coaching ’em,” Arians said. “When I’m not hollering, it’s not a good thing.”

— Three receivers (coincidence? Probably not) are attempting to return to practice full today: John Brown (quad), Chad Williams (shin splints) and Aaron Dobson (hamstring). Tackle D.J. Humphries (hamstring) is going to try individual drills today, and Arians expects him back to practice later this week and to be able to play Saturday.


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Humphries won’t play against Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 12, 2017 – 5:33 pm

Bruce Arians had called three players questionable to play tonight against the Raiders: Tackle D.J. Humphries (hamstring) and wide receivers John Brown (quad) and Chad Williams (shin splints). Only Humphries is on the “not-expected-to-play” list (there is no true inactive list in the preseason), although we’ll see exactly how many snaps Brown and/or Williams actually gets.

The complete list of players not expected to play:

— T D.J. Humphries (hamstring)

— LB Jarvis Jones (back)

— WR Aaron Dobson (hamstring)

— WR Carlton Agudosi (knee)

— RB T.J. Logan (wrist)

— S Rudy Ford (hamstring)

— LB Philip Wheeler (unknown)

— DT Ed Stinson (hamstring)

— LB Deone Bucannon (PUP/ankle)


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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2017 – 11:40 am

With about a month left before training camp (already?!?), it’s time to take a look at who I think the offensive starters will be come Sept. 10, when the Cardinals play the Lions in Detroit to begin the regular season. Could a training camp signing change things? Sure. I see more of a chance of that defensively than offensively.

My defensive thoughts are here. And after that, the blog posts will slow. Time off coming.

QB – Carson Palmer. You can’t get anywhere without a quarterback. Palmer finished strong in 2016. He’s a year older, yes, and no one is calling him a top-five QB. But he’s still very good when the offense functions well, and when his receivers don’t let him down.

RB – David Johnson. MVP-type player. Is he going to get 100 scrimmage yards every game? Maybe not, but he’s certainly going to have the opportunity. With his skills, and health, I’m not ruling out a 1,000-1,000 season.

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. After Bruce Arians had said more than once Fitz’s 100-catch days were behind him, Fitz has had two straight 100-catch seasons. Won’t be surprised to see him do it again. The question will be, is this his last season?

WR – Smokey Brown. He says he’s healthy. The Cards need him to be. Rookie Chad Williams may have an intriguing future, but this year, the Cardinals need the I-can-get-1,000-yards John Brown.

TE – Jermaine Gresham. So many have questioned his new large contract. But he’s been the best tight end the Cards have had since he showed up, and he does deliver some intangibles on the field this team can use.

TE – Troy Niklas. It’s a leap, yes, to assume Niklas will stay healthy. But every time, in the brief times, Niklas has been on the field, they like what he has brought. He’s not going to be a big pass-catcher. But he can block and he’ll play an important role – again, if he’s on the field.

LT – D.J. Humphries. He’s better suited for the left side. It’s tough for Jared Veldheer, but given ages and the future, this was all but predetermined when Humphries was drafted.

LG – Mike Iupati. Wasn’t as good in 2016 as he was in 2015, but I expect a rally. It’s important too – given his salary going forward, his age and the drafting of Dorian Johnson, the spotlight will be bright.

C – A.Q. Shipley. Showed the Cardinals he could start in this league. No reason to think he won’t again.

RG – Evan Boehm. I don’t see Johnson jumping into this job. Not yet. This is probably the second-most likely spot Keim could grab a vet, behind only No. 2 cornerback. But as it stands, Boehm is probably going to be out there.

RT – Jared Veldheer. Veldheer didn’t want to move from left to right tackle, but he did for the good of the team. Is there a transition to be made? Yes. Somehow, I don’t have much concern that Veldheer will make it work successfully.


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Spring Tailgate TV special, and “Groundwork”

Posted by Darren Urban on May 5, 2017 – 11:00 am

Couple of worthwhile projects put together by our excellent video department are finding their way to the public, so if you get a chance, take a look. The first is “Groundwork” a series of short web videos that will be rolled out from now (the initial piece features D.J. Humphries) through training camp. The synopsis, from our VP of broadcasting, Tim DeLaney:

“Groundwork is about the business of getting better from an individual’s perspective.  Each episode will focus on a player and what he is doing to prepare for the season – mentally and physically – in the weight room, the film room and on the field.  We’ll track the progress of the highlighted players through training camp.”

The other will be the Spring Tailgate TV special, shot the night of the third day of the draft and airing Saturday at approximately 8 p.m., following NBA playoff coverage on ABC 15. Hosted by Paul Calvisi and Ron Wolfley, the show features draft analysis from GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill, as well as talk about the revamped defense with linebackers Chandler Jones and Karlos Dansby.


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Humphries, Nkemdiche and Year 2

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2017 – 9:50 am

D.J. Humphries’ rookie year was a washout. He knew that, even if it made sense he needed to mature both physically and mentally when it came to playing in the NFL. His second year, he was a starter all season (until he suffered a concussion late in the season) and definitely had improvement, to the point where Humphries is the early choice to play left tackle this season. He’s anxious to build on that in 2017, which was underscored by his tweet today:

The work needed, and Humphries’ step forward in his second year, made me think of Robert Nkemdiche.

Like Humphries, Nkemdiche’s rookie season was a washout. Nkemdiche was actually active for a handful of games (unlike Humphries) but he didn’t make an impact. He knew, as did his coaches, that he hadn’t been ready for the NFL. That, according to both Nkemdiche and his coaches, improved near the end of the season. Recently, when talking about his breakout choices for 2017, General Manager Steve Keim brought up Nkemdiche. Make no mistake — the Cardinals will need Nkemdiche to take at the very least a Humphries-like step forward in his second year. Calais Campbell very well could leave as a free agent, and besides, Nkemdiche was a first-round pick — you have to have your first-round picks have significant development year to year.

It’s an important offseason not only for the Cardinals (who could have some significant defensive changes) but for Nkemdiche.

blogrn


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Keim: I expect Arians, Palmer, Fitz to return

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2016 – 8:21 am

At the heart of his team, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim thinks he has a pretty good idea he will have his top trio back next season. Asked Monday on his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim said “I know Coach (Bruce Arians) is coming back.” He did say Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald should be asked directly, but “based on conversations I had with them in training camp, I’d be surprised if they didn’t play next year.”

Of course, that’s next year, and the subject of next year is on the table because after Sunday’s loss, this year is down to three games with the playoffs all but out of the question.

Keim said this feeling doesn’t compare to the embarrassment he felt during that 58-0 loss in Seattle in late 2012, right before he got the GM job. “This is a constant frustration. I have a hard time putting your finger on issues as a whole. It starts with attention to detail, and … guys we were counting on to make big plays have not shown up with any consistency. That’s also very alarming for me.”

What about going forward?

“I have a pretty good feel (for what I want to do),” Keim said. “I really do feel like our core talent on offense and on defense is in place. … These last three games are critical for a lot of reasons. I want to identify who loves it. Which guys are passionate about the game. Who are our top competitors? If you’re not going to compete and not play with passion you’re not going to be on this roster in 2017.”

— While Keim said he was proud of the team for fighting back in the fourth quarter, there was plenty to improve. “The one thing I struggle with is the missed tackles,” he said, adding that technique is involved but he also sees it as a matter of want-to.

— The patchwork offensive line was up and down, particularly the right side. He liked how both money linebacker Deone Bucannon and left tackle D.J. Humphries were playing before their injuries (ankle and concussion, respectively). He thought newcomer Sio Moore made a couple of nice plays, and also noticed rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, who ended up playing 18 defensive snaps because of all the injuries. That was the most time Williams has spent on defense since the opener.

— Keim’s special teams evaluation: “Guys that we counted on, not getting it done. Starts with the snapper. It was an issue earlier in the year and we made the change, and I thought Aaron (Brewer) for most part done done a pretty good job. I don’t know how much the conditions had to do with it but he had a few rough snaps (Sunday). But Chandler (Catanzaro) still has to make kicks and he has to show more consistency. Same goes for Drew Butler. Those positions will obviously be evaluated and if we need to make changes, we will do it.”

— When it comes to leadership, Keim said that for the most part, the message is stronger coming from the locker room than coaches. And one issue that could be a factor goes back to what Keim said earlier, that guys the Cardinals were counting on to play well have not. The best leaders also play well. If the Cards’ top leaders aren’t playing well, it likely impacts the attempted leadership.

— Keim finished off by thanking the fans for the season despite the Cardinals failing to live up to expectations. He noted the tons of Cardinals fans in Miami for the game. That was something I noticed too — there was an appreciable roar from the stands on the Cards’ final TD and subsequent two-point conversion.


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A soaking wet Dolphins aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 11, 2016 – 10:04 pm

The message wasn’t a surprise. Calais Campbell has been calling every game a playoff game and none of the players in the locker room were confused at exactly what was at stake Sunday. Still, when Bruce Arians brought his team together after the rainy loss in Miami and said out loud that it likely doomed its playoff hopes, “it was terrible to hear,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I don’t think that’s set in yet.”

Perhaps it was its downfall, but this team never really gave serious thought to the idea it wouldn’t make the playoffs. There are many reasons for that, one being that under Arians, this team has never been in this predicament. In his first season, the Cardinals won seven of eight down the stretch and went into the last weekend still with a slim chance to make the playoffs. The past two years, they had clinched playoff spots right around now.

No reason to belabor the point right now. The Cardinals do have three games left to play, and those last two – road trips to Seattle and Los Angeles – aren’t just any games. Those remain personal. Motivation is there.

But everyone knew the expectations of this season. Falling short of even making the playoffs wasn’t supposed to be part of the equation.

— We will see what the week brings, but left tackle D.J. Humphries left with a concussion and right tackle Ulrick John was injured on the Cards’ last offensive play. Not sure who might be left to play if both are too banged up to go. Earl Watford indeed was reinstalled as right guard in place of John Wetzel, but Wetzel ended up having to play anyway. Injuries have just torn up the offensive line.

Defensively, the Cardinals already were iffy on the return of Tyrann Mathieu and now Tyvon Branch may be down, and perhaps cornerback Marcus Cooper.

— The rain is not why the Cardinals lost, but it came down at times incredibly hard and it was weird how it did seem to kick up when the Cards had the ball.

“I swear to God it felt like every time we touched the ball it started raining,” wide receiver Brittan Golden said.

— Speaking of Golden, he got his first career TD reception, but he actually went in to the game for a play before that – at deep safety. Cooper and Branch were out and safety Tony Jefferson got banged up on a play and had to leave the field for a snap. Golden has practiced at times with the secondary, but this was the first time he actually went out there playing deep centerfield on a run play. And what went through his mind?

“Please don’t break that tackle,” Golden said with a grin.

— It was probably fitting that the loss that basically ended their hopes came in large part because of special teams woes. This week it was the kicker Chandler Catanzaro and long snapper Aaron Brewer. Couple of high snaps doomed two extra points, one of which was returned for two points. Add in the missed field goal of 41 yards, and that’s a seven-point swing in a three-point game. Killer.

Yet Cat Man mixed in a 56-yard field goal that I will admit I was shocked Arians called for, a boot that was the third-longest in franchise history – behind the 60-yarder he had in Buffalo earlier this season and the 61-yarder Jay Feely had against the Bills in Arizona in 2012.

— Sunday may be the first time in NFL history both teams faced a third-and-at-least-33.

— Larry Fitzgerald was targeted nine times Sunday but had only three catches for a scant 12 yards. He has 91 receptions this season but so many of late have been for so few yards that his per-catch average has sunk to less than 10 yards a reception – 9.8 to be exact.

— The rain made the downfield passing game terrible. Michael Floyd had 18 yards on two catches – and those were the most by any wide receiver. Fitz had his 12, Golden nine and J.J. Nelson eight. Smoke Brown played but wasn’t targeted.

— Kerwynn Williams did well in the wildcat. He took three snaps as a “quarterback,” running each time, gaining 34 yards. The Cardinals had 175 yards rushing as a team and averaged 6.5 yards a carry. But with the turnovers and the sideways special teams, it wasn’t enough.

— Three games left. We’ll see how the Cardinals play it out.

Carson Palmer, Ndamukong Suh


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