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Vonnie Holliday sat back a bit in his locker in the cramped, outdated visiting locker room at Candlestick Park.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 for all the news.


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Potter inactive, Batiste to start vs 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2012 – 12:57 pm

Left tackle Nate Potter is inactive today because of his sprained ankle, putting D’Anthony Batiste back in the lineup for the first time since Potter replaced him during the Green Bay game prior to the bye week Nov. 4. That will make for an interesting matchup when he goes against 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks). Fullback Anthony Sherman (knee) is also inactive, meaning tight end Jim Dray will fill in for the fullback duties.

Rookie guard Senio Kelemete is active for the first time this season, too.

Also inactive for the Cards today are:

— QB John Skelton

— WR LaRon Byrd (knee)

— G Mike Gibson (calf)

— WR Early Doucet (concussion)

— DE Ronald Talley (ankle)

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Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2012 – 4:08 pm

Next week, Ray Horton figures to get at least one if not several inquiries to interview for vacant head coaching jobs. He already had one last year – with the Rams – and as a minority candidate whose unit has played very good football this season, Horton figures to attract interest.

Horton didn’t want to necessarily go there today, his final day of meeting the media this season.

“I would say today I’m just trying to be the best D-coordinator in the league and I didn’t do it (this season),” Horton said. “We didn’t accomplish our goals. The rest of that stuff usually takes care of itself and usually teams that win more are rewarded that well.”

That said, when asked when he would know if he was ready for a head coaching job, Horton acknowledged, “A couple years ago – (although) you never know until you get there.”

Horton’s interview with the Rams reportedly went well and he had no reason to think he wouldn’t duplicate the feat. “I think if you are confident in what you do, every interview would be good,” he said. “I feel I’m prepared, smart, knowledgeable, humble and whatever goes with whatever that entails.”

None of that means Horton won’t be defensive coordinator in Arizona next year. A lot will happen across the league over the next few weeks. There is a lot of unknown about the Cards themselves. Horton said he isn’t thinking about that.

“All I know is I am going to San Francisco in the morning and I’m not going there to get any sourdough bread,” Horton said. “I’m going there to play a football game.”

— With left tackle Nate Potter upgraded to limited Friday and listed as questionable to play, we’ll see who gets the call at the spot – him or D’Anthony Batiste. You wonder how much the 49ers will work to get Aldon Smith the three sacks he needs to tie the NFL record in that stat, and you wonder if Brian Hoyer – who looks pretty aware in the pocket – can make a difference with his decision-making.

— It does help that the 49ers will be without DT Justin Smith, however.

— Horton said he thought the 49ers have changed their playcalling after installing Colin Kaepernick as starting quarterback in place of Alex Smith.

“You don’t see as many shifts, as many extra linemen in the game,” Horton said. “(Kaepernick) adds an element to run the ball. It will be an interesting experiment to see what they think after the season is over.”

— In case you missed it, here’s the list of 2013 opponents for the Cards, home and away.

— Heading into the league’s final weekend, the Cardinals currently have the ninth pick in the first round of the draft. Given the matchups in the final game – and given the Cards’ fairly strong strength of schedule – it’s going to be difficult to move much higher if the team loses to the 49ers (a win would drop them mid-first-round. About 15 or 16, I would guess). There might be a chance to move to No. 7, realistically.

— Veteran defensive end Vonnie Holliday – who could be playing in his final NFL game Sunday as he contemplates retirement once again – has high hopes for a lot of the younger defenders on the Cardinals and what they can become.

One of those guys is nose tackle Dan Williams, about whom Holliday is bullish about his future.

“He can be one of the best nose guards in this league,” Holliday said. “Because of his athleticism, because of his size and strength. And now he’s become a student of the game.”

— For this week’s episode of “Season In Focus” (airing Saturday at 7 a.m. on ABC-15), there will be Adrian Wilson Wired, the best of Cardinals Chronicles for 2012, the best moments of the season at University of Phoenix Stadium, and a spotlight on record-breaking punter Dave Zastudil.

— I will admit I hope Daryl Washington can get his 10th sack.

— The Cardinals had all kinds of problems tackling the 49ers the last time they met, one of the reasons Smith’s 18-for-19 passing day turned so effective (232 yards, three touchdowns). Can’t have that happen again.

— The 49ers have a lot on the line. We’ll see if the Cardinals can mess with that at all.


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Chasing the 10th sack

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2012 – 10:14 am

Linebacker Daryl Washington, snubbed for the Pro Bowl Wednesday, is still chasing his 10th sack of the season. Notching one more would not only tie the franchise mark for sacks by a linebacker, but also make him the first guy with 10 since Bertrand Berry had 14.5 in 2004 and the first Cardinal ever to have 100 tackles and 10 sacks. Of course, Washington as been stuck with nine sacks since getting one against the Rams Nov. 25. Chasing down mobile 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for one might not be easy. Washington did have two sacks the last time the Cards played the 49ers, but at that point, Alex Smith was still playing QB for San Francisco.

— Left tackle Nate Potter sat out Wednesday’s practice with a bad ankle. If Potter isn’t able to play Sunday, his backup is D’Anthony Batiste — who struggled so much when he was in there earlier in the season — and I’d think Batiste would likely get another start. That would definitely be something that bears watching.

— The Big Red Rage tonight at Majerle’s in Chandler will feature not only host Kerry Rhodes but also wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, so reserve your table quickly. The show starts at 6 p.m.


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Potter’s starting journey begins now

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2012 – 4:16 pm

Once upon a time, Nate Potter was considered a possible first-round pick.

Sure, that was almost a year before he was drafted, long before his final college season was played and long before the scouts got a hold of him and broke him down every which way. But it’s not like he came out of nowhere when the Cardinals took him in the seventh round this past April. While it’s not news he is finally getting his chance to start, nine games into the season with one Levi Brown injury and one failed D’Anthony Batiste experiment setting up the situation, he was officially placed atop the depth chart Tuesday.

Former Cardinals left tackle L.J. Shelton was a guest on the Big Red Rage last week — L.J. was another of those great guys I covered on not-so-good teams of the early 2000s — when he was asked to what Potter’s biggest challenge was.

“The biggest challenge for him,” Shelton said, chuckling, “is John Abraham.”

Abraham is, of course, the Falcons’ top pass rusher.

“Just going against experienced, Pro Bowl players like that is a challenge,” Shelton added. “He has teammates and coaches that will put him in the right position and give him help. I’d advise him, on any short pass early on, cut him to slow him down, and from there on, just play football. Once you are out there and the ball is snapped and the helmets hit, it’s football again. Trust your instincts.”

Asked what he sees when he sees Potter and fellow rookie tackle Bobby Massie, Shelton said, “I see rookies.”

“I see promise — I do see promise — but I see rookies,” he said. “The biggest thing they need is experience. There are hundreds of different looks you see every Sunday, with different coordinators. As they get experience, they’ll start to recognize different looks. Right now, it’s a learning game for them.”

How this turns out is a guessing game right now. Finding solid tackles in the fourth- and seventh-round isn’t unheard of. To say that’s what these players can become is premature at best. I’ve had questions about whether Brown, for instance, could move to guard if Potter does well. Certainly — and I have said this in the comments before — that’s not a subject that can be reasonably discussed yet. Not with Potter just getting started, and not when the earliest you need to do something would be at minicamp in May, months — and both free agency and the draft — away.

Given the defenses the Cards and Potter are slated to face in the stretch run (Falcons, Rams, Jets, Seahawks, Lions, Bears, 49ers), there should be plenty with which to judge Potter’s future going into the offseason.

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Packers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2012 – 6:30 pm

Perfection isn’t an option. Everyone knows that. But that means a couple of mistakes, not many. If Adrian Wilson is going to miss on a red-zone tackle that ultimately cost the Cardinals four points – the difference between a touchdown and a field goal – then Early Doucet can’t drop a couple of passes that should have gone for first downs, and John Skelton can’t force a ball into coverage that ends up being intercepted (and turned into a field goal) and the defense can’t get caught allowing a 72-yard touchdown pass, whether it was Paris Lenon or someone else.

Both sides of the ball had slow starts again Sunday. That wasn’t happening early in the year. The defense was punctured too many times in the first half. That wasn’t happening earlier in the year. The Cardinals lost again. That wasn’t happening earlier in the year.

What that means on the other side of the upcoming bye – a road trip to the currently undefeated Atlanta Falcons is up next – is anyone’s guess.

“It don’t get no easier, that’s for sure,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.

Dockett was talking about the schedule. Hopefully he wasn’t foreshadowing how the Cards will play the rest of the season.

— The “big” story of the game, if you want to call it that, was the insertion of Nate Potter at left tackle. I thought during the game he held up well after coming in to replace D’Anthony Batiste in the second quarter. Potter got a lot of first-team work during practice last week so it wasn’t a surprise to see him. I’m guessing we will see him a lot more, and now he’ll have two weeks to prep for what I would suspect will be his first NFL start.

— No idea what has happened to the defense, especially early in games. They are playing well after some time, but those early hiccups are killing the Cards. Clearly the Cards set up to foil the Packers’ passing game Sunday, so the Packers said “OK, we’ll run.” And they ran for a season-high 176 yards, while Aaron Rodgers still got his four TD passes. If Wilson had just been able to make that first tackle of Randall Cobb on the catch-and-run – it was déjà vu of the Michael Crabtree San Francisco in-close catch-and-run – who knows how that might’ve changed things?

— The drops were not good, especially those of Doucet. According to Mike Sando of fame, Doucet already has six drops this season. “I had a couple of plays that I let get away from me,” Doucet said. “I need to do my job.” The question will be how many chances he’ll get to do that. Given Whiz’s post-game comments, this could easily be the point where Michael Floyd gets more playing time going forward. Floyd did have his best overall game, with five catches for 80 yards.

As for Doucet, Whiz shook his head when asked about what was wrong with Early, although he certainly wasn’t going to scapegoat his receiver. “I do not know. I do not know,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s not just him. We missed tackles. We missed a tackle on the first touchdown. There was a busted play on the 72 yard touchdown pass. That’s the point of what I am saying.”

— So much for the sack fest everyone – including me – was expecting. One sack for the Cards, two for the Packers.

— Whisenhunt was asked, again, about the possibility of rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley playing.

“I don’t know if the way that John (Skelton) played today would warrant that,” Whisenhunt said. “We feel like we’re going to go forward looking for the guys that can help us win. If that comes up in that situation, then we will certainly consider it.”

Personally, I didn’t think it was the quarterback play that got the Cards. There may be a point where the record dictates the Cards should try the rookie behind center. I don’t believe this is that time. Not yet.

— The Cards will have a couple of practices this week. There are multiple days off, something I believe is mandated by the CBA. I don’t know if this team needs a break – “After a loss, the one thing you want to do is get back on the field and play,” Lenon said – but I can’t say that I don’t welcome the mental respite.

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Friday before the Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2012 – 4:58 pm

Trips to Minnesota since I’ve been covering the Cardinals have frequently ended poorly. OK, not frequently. Always. My first trip there was for a 2000 preseason game, where four or five Cardinals suffered serious injuries on the one-time crappy turf, including the ACL tear for wide receiver Rob Moore. There were not very close losses in 2000 and 2006 (although the Cards were a Hail Mary away at the end to get an amazing comeback). There was the 2010 loss, which looked like it was in the bag with a two-touchdown lead with six minutes left (Favred!) and then last year, when the Cards simply melted down in the first quarter.

Year-to-year doesn’t matter – it’s a new team here, the Vikings are a new team, and for the most part, nothing carries over – but that’s at least the backdrop for the Cards this weekend. I don’t need to get into the schedule again (but if you forgot, it’s Niners, Packers, Falcons in the next three games) but this is important. The coaches know it. So do the players.

— This is an early game, kickoff 10 a.m. Arizona time. The Cards had one of those in New England, but that was after flying in on a Friday. The Cards don’t fly to Minnesota until tomorrow. They can’t afford to sleepwalk through the first quarter.

— I watched the video of Vikings defensive end Jared Allen meeting with the Minnesota media. Not surprisingly, he was asked multiple times about the Cards surrendering 22 sacks the past three games and the opportunity he had. Not surprisingly, he dodged bulletin-board material. Who knows? Maybe he actually made a good point:

“I’ve been in this league for so long, I’ve played teams where they’ve given up … I always go back to the Texans, who had given up, like, 50 sacks and we came in there like Week 10 or Week 11 (when he was with the Chiefs),” Allen said. “All we saw were bootlegs. Teams also know that. So you can’t sit there and say, ‘We’re going to lick our chops and get after the quarterback,’ because you’re going to get burned in the run.”

The Allen pass rush – he’s only got four sacks this season, below expectations — will be under the microscope Sunday, whether it is against D’Anthony Batiste or Bobby Massie.

— Linebacker Daryl Washington repeated the same message over and over: We have to stop 12 and 28. That’s Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, in case you weren’t sure. Obvious, yes. But last year, quarterback Donovan McNabb was god-awful against the Cards (another reason why it confounds me a Cardinals fan would suggest signing McNabb) and yet the Vikings rolled. Peterson was awesome (three first-quarter TDs) and Harvin is a Swiss knife of a playmaker.

— Speaking of Peterson, it is still amazing he has returned from ACL surgery so quickly (he blew out his knee Christmas Eve 2011). He already has 499 yards rushing. “He’s not quite as bombastic in what he used to do,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton said, “but he still has our full respect.”

“He just never ever doubted,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “The only time he showed any doubt was when we were flying back from the game when he was injured in Washington. But after that it was full speed ahead from a mental standpoint and he’s never regressed.”

— The Cards are allowing just 16.2 points a game, fourth in the NFL behind the Bears, 49ers and Seahawks. Whatever the rest of the stats say, that works for Horton. “That’s the only stat that should be measured,” Horton said.

— It hurts to be missing safety Kerry Rhodes, down with the bad back. That means the Cards will have gone through a game without Rhodes, Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett so far. It’d be nice to have all the key pieces in place, and Rhodes is having a pretty good year. Horton more or less shrugged it off. “Hopefully we’re not built like a house of cards where one guy gets hurt it is doom and gloom,” he said. “I don’t think we are built that way.”

— In case you missed it, my visit this summer to Minnesota turned into this story about how Larry Fitzgerald loves his home state. (But don’t worry, he loves being in Arizona too.)

— Minnesota native Michael Floyd isn’t getting the kind of work he was hoping – 7 catches, 84 yards – but he’s hanging in there. “The ball doesn’t come that way often, so when it does, you have to make the play,” he said. Floyd made the spectacular catch against the Bills after failing to come down with one a couple of weeks previous. Both Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Mike Miller say Floyd is doing fine in his steps forward.

“If we were doing better offensively (overall), he’d probably be more involved, have more statistics,” Whisenhunt said.

John Skelton, you’re up.

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Left tackle logic

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2012 – 10:11 am

It’s not like Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was breaking any new ground when he said this morning on a conference call that teams need to have the left tackle position solidified in today’s NFL. Minnesota — thanks to their 3-13 record a year ago — was able to draft Matt Kalil with the third fourth pick overall and have been able to do just that. The Cardinals, with Levi Brown done for the year and D’Anthony Batiste (below) filling in, are trying to make do the best they can. The Cardinals did bring Pat McQuistan back this week after releasing him after the third game, and maybe that means a change is possible.

Even Kalil has needed help once in a while, although Frazier said it hasn’t been nearly as much as the coaches expected. The Cardinals have done some things to help Batiste, although they also have to help out rookie right tackle Bobby Massie too. And the more help needed for the tackles, the more it changes what a team can do in the passing game.

“When people can force you to keep seven people in or even eight people in, it just reduces your potential to make plays down the field, so you better have a dynamic guy outside when you go max protection and a dynamic quarterback as well,” Frazier said. “You don’t want to end up having to utilize people often to help on the offensive line. You are going to have to do it sometimes, but to get into a situation when you’re doing it much more than releasing players, you simplify to the point where you make it a lot easier for defenses to defend you.”

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Cards bring back OT McQuistan

Posted by Darren Urban on October 16, 2012 – 4:28 pm

The Cardinals added an offensive tackle Tuesday, and you know him — it’s Pat McQuistan, who was with the team the first three weeks before being released. It will be interesting to see if he gets a chance to play at some point in front of the struggling D’Anthony Batiste or Bobby Massie. It does produce another option, however, and at this point, options are good.

To make room for McQuistan, and in a good sign of the rehab process for Michael Adams and Greg Toler, the Cardinals released cornerback Crezdon Butler.

The Cardinals also made a practice squad move. Practice squad receiver Isaiah Williams, after hurting his finger in practice, has been placed on the injured reserve – practice squad list, clearing the way for receiver Gerell Robinson to return to the practice squad after serving his four-game suspension. Robinson had been suspended for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs.

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Skelton only has low ankle sprain, not ruled out

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2012 – 11:40 am

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said this morning that the Cardinals got good news and that quarterback John Skelton not only doesn’t have a fracture but just a low ankle sprain, not the dreaded high ankle sprain. Because of that, Whisenhunt wouldn’t even rule Skelton out for New England Sunday. Whiz wouldn’t put any timetable on Skelton’s recovery, although he did say he does not expect to bring in another quarterback at this point. Asked about Skelton being the starter when he returns, Whisenhunt said “I don’t even know why that would be a question.”

Some other day-after notes:

— The shoulder injury to rookie cornerback Jamell Fleming is not serious. Cards hopeful he will be available against the Patriots.

— Ryan Williams started at running back because of the hamstring issues Beanie Wells had on Friday, which derailed what had been a good week of practice, Whisenhunt said. “There’s nothing more than that” to Williams as starter, Whisenhunt said.

— Whisenhunt said he was more comfortable with new tackles Bobby Massie and D’Anthony Batiste than he had been. “Those guys did a good job. We didn’t know anything about those guys in a regular-season NFL game. They fought. … We have to clean things from a running game perspective. But from the protection part of it, our line played well.”

— The running game obviously must get better. “When you are going against an eight-man front, which is how they played us, there will be some runs where you get one or two yards, then there are some where you break through and crease them. We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities on those runs. The(nine)-yard run Beanie had the one time. You have to have more of those. It wasn’t as much the running backs as much as one or two guys breaking down, not finishing blocks the right way. It’s a tight margin when there are eight guys up there. We have to be better.”

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