Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on November 25, 2011 – 3:52 pm

Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged Friday that, when Kevin Kolb got hurt originally, as bad as it looked, “you knew at that time there would be a time period to come back.” And there has been. Kolb did some work this week, but Whiz said Friday his next test would be the plane flight to St. Louis.

“Getting the rust off was what was important this week,” Whisenhunt said. “Seeing if he could play from the standpoint of practicing one day and see how it reacted the next day.”

What does this all mean? I suppose we could see Kolb Sunday. He is questionable after all. But Whiz also emphasized how important feet are to a quarterback – you can’t have him be a sitting duck back there – and given that he was limited all week after not practicing at all the previous three weeks, signs again seem to point to a John Skelton start.

That would be good for Skelton, to be honest. No way you want a young quarterback’s last taste during a season to be what transpired in San Francisco. That kind of ugliness – and how it noticeably affected Skelton, compared to how he usually is – needs to be flushed. Besides, if you are unsure of where Kolb is, what’s waiting one more week?

(Just in time for the pass rushes of the Cowboys and 49ers the next two games, by the way, albeit at home.)

We’ll see. Otherwise, it’s Rams Part II:

— Larry Fitzgerald tends to avoid talking specific criticisms, but he was blunt in calling the offense’s third-down conversions a “problem.” The Cards converted just one of 11 tries in San Francisco and “that’s unacceptable,” Fitzgerald said. “The plays are there, we have to be able to execute them.”

Overall, the Cards have converted a shade more than 30 percent of their third downs this season. Their last four games, it is 11-for-46, or 24 percent.

— You never want key cogs to go down with season-ending injuries (Everyone would have liked to see what the offense would have looked like with running back Ryan Williams or the defense with cornerback Greg Toler), but with nose tackle Dan Williams out, I would like to see how well rookie David Carter does. Veteran Nick Eason will be the starter, but Carter is the intriguing one, after pushing Williams in camp.

— That said, defensive coordinator Ray Horton liked what Williams was doing before he got hurt. Williams needs to keep his weight in check. Next year will be a big one for him, especially with Horton needing an anchor in the middle.

— The Cards can’t complain to the Rams about injuries, that’s for sure. Friday, tackle Jason Brown and receiver Mark Clayton were put on injured reserve – the 12th and 13th guys on that list for the Rams (and that doesn’t include a couple of injury settlements).

— The Cards have blocked four field goals this season, three by defensive end Calais Campbell alone. It’s the highest total for an NFL team since the Bears in 2007. “If you want to judge a team, watch that unit,” Whisenhunt said. “No matter what the score or where in the game it is, those guys are working hard. It’s just an effort play. It’s pretty amazing.”

— Quietly, wide receiver Early Doucet is on pace for 67 catches for 817 yards this season, decent numbers considering the inconsistent play at quarterback and in the passing game.

The Cards have won six straight games in St. Louis. I used to think it was a Kurt Warner-revenge thing. Nope. They’ve done it without him too.


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Dan Williams breaks arm, out for season

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2011 – 7:42 pm

Nose tackle Dan Williams broke his left arm Sunday in the game against the 49ers. No official word on how long he is out, but with six games left, you figure it’s going to be tough — and probably not worth it — to come back. That means rookie David Carter will move into the starting lineup, and probably means Nick Eason will get more work at the position.

UPDATE: Coach Ken Whisenhunt said on his post game radio show Williams was indeed done for the season.

Right tackle Brandon Keith also suffered a concussion during the game and his status will be evaluated this week.


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Broncos aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 1, 2011 – 11:37 pm

It will mean nothing in the official statistics of the NFL, or in all likelihood, with the Cards’ roster decisions. Undrafted rookie running  back William Powell — cut a few days into camp, mind you, and brought back only because Ryan Williams was lost for the season — had 29 carries Thursday night against Denver in a stat line that crystallizes what the fourth preseason game is all about. Powell gained just 60 yards, and he actually had six more carries than he did in his entire (JC-shortened two-year) stint at Kansas State in college.

More carries in one game than two years in college? “I’m awake now,” Powell said. “All them carries, I am wide awake. I wanted to be out there as much as possible, get as many carries as I can, show my talent and quickness and put as much on tape as I could.”

The Cardinals did what they needed to get out of the preseason. No major injuries. A win. Some nice plays (although the Broncos didn’t play their starters and clearly are hurting in the depth category). Coach Ken Whisenhunt has a press conference tomorrow at 2 p.m., and I expect most, if not all, the Cards’ cuts to be announced. That’s how it has worked on Fridays in the past under Whiz.

— Guard Deuce Lutui was still playing late in the fourth quarter. It’s not a shock, given his battle of the bulge. “When you get down to the last preseason game, you don’t have a lot of offensive linemen,” Whisenhunt said. “This was a game he had to show us something. It’s been a battle the whole time and we knew the whole time he needed to lose weight in order to play like we thought he could play. It will be good to look at the tape and see where he is.”

— Rookie defensive lineman David Carter, who had been playing backup nose tackle most of camp, spent a good chunk of time at defensive end Thursday. “We are trying to push him, see what he can do,” Whisenhunt said. “No question he has had an outstanding preseason. The more things you can do, the better value you have on game day.”

— It will be interesting to see if the left pectoral strain of tight end Jim Dray impacts the decision on the roster, assuming he indeed was battling Stephen Spach for a spot. Speaking of battles, Reagan Maui’a continues to show up at fullback. I still think Anthony Sherman makes the team, but Maui’a has made it a very difficult choice.

— Safety Hamza Abdullah I think has made the team, but he made a couple of big hits out there. Don’t confuse him as just the nice-guy-who-visits-the-President. “You have to let them know you’re out there,” he said.

— The Cards watched the Broncos miss a field goal despite only having, after a couple guys sprinted off the field thinking they weren’t supposed to be out there, eight men on the field. “You know what, as I was biting my tongue as it was happening, I was thinking, ‘It’s the fourth quarter of the fourth preseason game,’ ” Whisenhunt said. (Actually it was the end of the third). “(The Broncos) didn’t know what they were doing (either). It was tough but we’ll let it slide.”

— Whatever happens with “final cuts,” this roster is going to be fluid to a point. I expect another running back. Some guys who make the roster probably shouldn’t breathe easy, since they could still be on the move.

— Finally, quarterback Rich Bartel looked impressive again. He wasn’t perfect, as he said himself, but he looked very good — again. Is he the No. 2? Is it Skelton? I think Bartel has made a strong case for himself. In all honesty, let’s hope Kevin Kolb stays healthy and the No. 2 is a moot point.

And with that, time to head home. We will have news tomorrow afternoon. And then, the regular season begins.


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Chargers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2011 – 1:41 am

You know what I thought of when I watched Kevin Kolb launch one down the field and connect perfectly with Larry Fitzgerald for that 80-yard touchdown bomb Saturday night? Not the Super Bowl catch (comon — no matter how pretty, the stakes were so dramatically different. There weren’t stakes in this game). Not even the one-time Kurt Warner-to-Fitz combo — Kurt liked to spread it around so much.

No, what I thought of was this entire last month. If we have learned anything about Kolb since he arrived it’s that he understands that a) Fitz likes the ball; b) Fitz can get the ball most of the time if it is anywhere close; and c) good things tend to happen when Fitz has the ball. We will see what happens when teams start gameplanning more to defend Fitz, but it’s hard to think that, assuming both Kolb and Fitz are healthy, Fitz is going to have anything but a monster year statistically.

Offensively, the Cards showed some pop. Beanie Wells is running as well as he did late in his rookie season. That’s a good thing, because that’s when I thought he was about to be a 1,200-yard back. The line is giving Kolb some protection. There’s a long way to go, but it’s easy to see how this team could score some points when it finally clicks — because at this point, they say they are not.

“I know we had some incompletions early, but a few of them were miscommunications,” Kolb said. “That’s going to happen … The biggest thing is starting early and then when we get in that red zone, making it count. That’s still an issue of ours going forward.”

— All this concern about stretching the field. Fitzgerald looked pretty fast on that 80-yard catch and then No. 2 Andre Roberts split the seam pretty well on that 34-yard reverse for a touchdown (shown below). “I want people to respect my speed,” Roberts said with a grin. “They call me slow. Maybe plays like that will help it out a little bit.”

— Funny how people were wondering about Patrick Peterson and his lack of impact and then he gets a Pick-6. Make no mistake, he’s a work-in-progress. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Chargers were kind of picking on him later in the half, Peterson insisted “it wasn’t pick-on-Peterson night.” Whatever the case, he is still learning. He insists he isn’t frustrated with how he is being handled. I’ll say this: He sure sounds like he has the perfect attitude. At some point — sooner rather than later — he is going to be a star. I really believe that.

— The Cards may need him sooner, depending on how bad the sprain is of starter Greg Toler. That could hurt in the short-term, and just ratchets up the importance of how A.J. Jefferson has played.

— I still think Dan Williams will be the starting nose tackle. But rookie David Carter is going to push for that job. Both have to play anyway. Whiz said Carter got cut blocked on Ryan Mathews’ 48-yard run and he has to find a way to plug the middle. But overall Carter is making a strong push. At this rate, he will be the pleasant surprise of camp.

— Speaking of making pushes, Rich Bartel is pushing John Skelton as backup QB. Bartel talked the other day about seizing opportunity. Then he completes 8-of-10 passes and tosses a TD. Save for that one bad INT in Green Bay, he seems to have made every other decision the right way this preseason.

— Kolb threw a block on Roberts’ run. I’m not sure that’s a smart thing. The coaches don’t think so, apparently. “My job is what I call ‘Push and pester,’ ” Kolb said. “I’m just trying to get in the way of somebody.” Just, please, stay safe when doing it.

— Peterson looked good on a punt return. Whiz said PP was back there because Roberts has a sore thumb. The way Peterson runs them back, it may be hard to not have him back there, even if Roberts’ thumb is golden.

— Ben Graham was the only Card to punt. He sure seemed to respond well to the signing of Dave Zastudil. Graham averaged 41.3 yards on four punts, dropping three inside the San Diego 20 and netting 48 yards on his other kick. He’s not going anywhere if he performs like that.

— Would’ve liked to see running back Alfonso Smith. Hamstring soreness kept him out. I’ll be curious to know if he can play in the fourth game at all.

OK, it’s late — very late — and I’m tired. Time to wrap this up. Short week before the Broncos come in Thursday. First cuts — from 90 to 80 — have to be done by Tuesday. I’d expect Monday. Then the final cut to 53 comes next weekend sometime. It will be interesting.


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And that’s all she wrote

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2011 – 11:10 am

Another training camp over.

I know the weather here is much nicer than down in the Valley right now, but I know I am ready to go home and you know all the players and coaches are too. Time to get back into a normal routine. Coach Ken Whisenhunt wouldn’t rule out anyone for Saturday’s game save for cornerback Michael Adams (knee), although he acknowledged quarterback John Skelton (ankle) was unlikely to go (and Adrian Wilson, of course, won’t be out there.) There are some question marks. Rookie receiver DeMarco Sampson tweaked his hamstring Wednesday and sat out Thursday. Tight end Rob Housler (groin) is getting better but he missed a second straight day.

Whiz said the last practice was “better than I expected.” No short-timers disease.

— It seemed like cornerback Patrick Peterson had a pretty good practice today. That’s always a good sign. If he can make an early impact, that would aid this defense so much.

— The players I’ll remember most from this camp? I thought rookie NT David Carter and Sampson both performed better than expected. Kevin Kolb is a work-in-progress, but he’s shown plenty to make this year’s quarterback situation so much more enjoyable to unfold. Backup Rich Bartel has impressed me too. And of course, Larry Fitzgerald continues to wow every day.

— Whisenhunt isn’t concerned about going to practice in the heat. “You know what? We’ve faced heat every year. It’s hot. We know that. We will do what we can to make it work.” Whisenhunt talked about having the giant fans and tents at the facility as usual and “potentially” using ASU’s practice dome.

OK, that’s enough. See ya, Flagstaff.


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Waiting on CBA, and other notes

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2011 – 12:44 pm

Everyone has been waiting for Thursday, because practice  begins for all the players who just signed contracts.

Probably.

The Thursday deadline was based on the idea the new collective bargaining agreement would be ratified. It has not been yet.

“Everybody wants to get out there and everyone is chomping at the bit,” said kicker Jay Feely, the Cardinals’ union representative. “No one wants to sit on the sidelines. But they can’t get out there until it is done. We’ve been shooting for tomorrow all along and as of (Tuesday) I was still being told it would be tomorrow hopefully. But we don’t have anything definitive yet.”

There were issues left that couldn’t be bargained until the union recertified, like drug policies, benefits and player conduct policies. That is what is still being dealt with. One thing is for certain — no one wants to wait.

— Rookie CB Patrick Peterson is changing his jersey number to 21, with safety Hamza Abdullah switching from 21 to 23. A couple other holdovers are also switching, with WR Max Komar going from 18 to 10 and Stephen Williams from 14 to 18.

— Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he doesn’t questions the toughness of RB Beanie Wells. But when it came to dealing with the knee injury last season and the aftereffects, “quite frankly, he didn’t handle it as well as he could have.”

— I know a lot of people keep asking about the backup nose tackle behind Dan Williams. Having looked at new defensive lineman Nick Eason, he definitely could fill in at the spot if needed. He’s a wide-body. And again, rookie David Carter is taking snaps there.


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The rookies and their impact

Posted by Darren Urban on July 7, 2011 – 11:30 am

So ESPN.com’s K.C. Joyner — the  “Football Scientist” — wrote an Insider article about No. 1 pick Patrick Peterson and the possibility he could bring the Cards’ secondary elite status this season. Joyner uses football metrics (fancy stats) to prove his point. He compares the Cards’ move to that of Bill Walsh and the 49ers back in 1981 when they added future star Ronnie Lott.

“This combination of traits helped the 49ers pass defense improve to top-five rankings in passer rating allowed, passing yards per attempt (YPA), passing yards allowed and interceptions in the 1981 campaign, all of which were key elements in San Francisco’s Super Bowl run that season,” Joyner writes.

“Fast forward to this year’s draft. It’s very hard to project any draft pick to be as impactful as Lott — who was a star at cornerback before he was eventually shifted to safety — but Whisenhunt and the Cardinals’ brain trust may have had the same idea in mind when they drafted LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson with the No. 5 pick.”

Joyner also writes “It may sound hard to believe given how bad Arizona’s pass defense statistics were last year, but the metrics show that the addition of Peterson and an achievable turnaround by former Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could give the Cardinals a truly elite secondary.”

Of course, that would be huge for the Cards if Peterson indeed did so (while noting DRC also has to up his play). But it also got me wondering about the entire rookie class. The way coach Ken Whisenhunt likes to break in rookies, there is usually a waiting period for them to make a large impact. Add in the complete loss of the offseason — so that this rookie class with have absolutely zero idea about life in the NFL and what this coaching staff expects until we are two weeks away from an actual preseason game — and you have to think the learning curve will be that much steeper.

Peterson, of course, should get a chance to play early. But with DRC and Greg Toler, there doesn’t have to be a rush into the starting lineup. The Cards can afford to pick-and-choose his spots (which may, again, slow down that scenario Joyner envisions). The same goes for second-round running back Ryan Williams, since the Cards obviously have running backs already in place — even if one of the guys already on the roster isn’t there once the season begins, which remains a possibility.

Interestingly, it’s the next four picks that really could be the ones to watch, depending on how free agency turns out. Third-round tight end Rob Housler is a pass-catching piece the Cards could use right away, if he can quickly assimilate. Fourth-round outside linebacker Sam Acho will have to learn the position, but given the Cards’ need for pass rushers and the ability to spot-play such guys, he too could be used early. And the Cards will probably carry only one fullback, so if fifth-rounder Anthony Sherman is the guy, he’ll have to be the blocker right out of the gate. Meanwhile, sixth-round linebacker Quan Sturdivant will find that there is playing time to be had in the middle — again, if he can quickly learn on the job.

(Sixth-round DL David Carter and seventh-round WR DeMarco Sampson, to me, are depth at best and will be fighting just to get on the roster.)

Until these guys get on the field, it’s always easy to be optimistic what they can add right away. History shows the free agents the Cards bring it — whomever they will be — will be more important, one way or the other, at first. That may just be underscored with this absent offseason.


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Draft aftermath and the seventh-rounder

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2011 – 7:15 pm

So the Cards finish up not with Mr. Irrelevant but close (five choices came after the Cardinals’ final pick) in San Diego State wide receiver DeMarco Sampson. Sampson is a big guy (6-foot-2, 204), with some speed (Whisenhunt said he ran a 4.41 this offseason) and a chance to add to the position that has some uncertainty in terms of contracts.

Otherwise, here are some other last thoughts after the last day:

— The wait for undrafted rookies now must wait – usually, the land rush to those guys has already started – until the current labor limbo is fixed. “We are going through our process of preparing to sign our (rookie) free agents like we normally would, except we’re not putting that plan into action until we’re allowed to do so,” GM Rod Graves said. “We’re taking it right up to the final step in the process.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Cards are attractive to UDFAs for a couple of reasons. He said the Cards actually pay decent signing bonuses for such things, which obviously grabs attention of players. More importantly, the Cards have shown they will keep UDFAs on the roster, and ultimately, that’s what those guys want.

— No offensive linemen drafted (for a second draft in a row), but I will guess there will be a couple or three undrafted rookies and some aggressiveness in free agency. Whenever that is.

— There will be plenty of time to assess what the picks mean for guys already on the roster at those positions (running back, for one). But the selection of a pass rusher not until the fourth round not only says something about who was on the board, it says something about O’Brien Schofield, the 2010 fourth-round pick who would have been higher if not for a postseason knee injury.

“It’s very, very difficult what he did, to not have played a snap (coming off knee surgery), come in and practice for a couple of weeks and then be playing,” Whisenhunt said. “(It) means he had to put a lot of time and effort into preparing. That’s what we really think is going to give him a chance.

— Inside linebacker Quan Sturdivant wears No. 52 in honor of a couple of his heroes, Ravens LB Ray Lewis and Panthers LB Jon Beason. Beason, Sturdivant said, was his model. “He’s not that big. He’s fast, instinctive, strong and makes plays, so I kind of like his game.”

— Speaking of uniform numbers, Sturdivant I’m sure wants 52, but right now, that is owned by LB Cyril Obiozor. I know new cornerback Patrick Peterson wants No. 21. But be cautioned (for anyone wanting to run out and buy jerseys), numbers aren’t in concrete yet. Veterans usually get first dibs and until there is a free-agency process at some point, uniform numbers will remain fluid.

— No quarterback, no real surprise, quite frankly. Just never got the sense the whole draft run-up they’d be looking in that direction.

–Defensive end David Carter may have been “all cried out” after an emotional day, but he sounded just fine on his conference call. So in the end, call-wise, he still can’t hold a candle to the Hyphen.

And finally …

— Whisenhunt broke out some draft humor after the team took linebacker Sam Acho from Texas.

“We’re going to make a request from the league he can wear No. 5 so we’ll have an Acho Cinco on our team,” Whisenhunt deadpanned.

Graves wasn’t going to let that go. “I wasn’t a part of that,” Graves said.


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Cards go DE with other sixth-rounder

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2011 – 1:34 pm

With their second sixth-round pick, the Cards took UCLA defensive end David Carter (6-4, 297) who had 3.5 sacks last season. He played nose tackle last season for the Bruins, but he will be a developmental defensive end in the 3-4 for the Cards. He went 10 picks after brother Chris, who was taken by the Steelers, setting off a huge celebration at the Carter household.

“This is crazy,” David Carter said. “I’ve never cried so hard in my life. I was crying for my brother because I know how hard he worked and I thought I was all cried out. Then I got picked. I thought, ‘Dang, I’m going to be dehydrated.’ ”

Carter said he thinks the two DE positions in the 3-4 are his natural spots. He did take a visit to Arizona before the draft, and said he thought all along either the Raiders or Cards would pick him. Now he will vie for a spot backing up Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, important with Alan Branch and Kenny Iwebema with expiring contracts. Ken Whisenhunt likes his versatility to eventually be part of the d-line rotation. “With a guy like him, he’s really what scouting is all about,” Whisenhunt said of finding Carter.


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