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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Thursday before the Packers (with a Fitz contract update)

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2011 – 12:04 pm

Here we are in Titletown, and what do you know, the team that plays here just won a title – and they haven’t played a home game since then. Now the Cards come to visit.

The big “news” today is Jim Trotter’s report about Larry Fitzgerald’s contract talks. Fitz says he won’t talk extension after Sept. 4, but at the same time an agreement is “not too far away.” Trotter says on his own he believes a deal will get done, which I have said all along. Since he talked to Fitz for a good 45 minutes the other day, my guess is Trotter got a good vibe (or something more concrete) from Fitzgerald.

In the meantime  …

— It will be interesting to see how the Cards use the pass rushers. Will rookie Sam Acho get some snaps on the right side? How much do they play O’Brien Schofield, knowing he needs as many reps as possible? Coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week that while he wants vets Joey Porter and Clark Haggans to play – the defense is “new” for them too – they don’t need to play as much.

— No way to know how banged up the Cards are right now, but guard Pork Chop Womack did come out of practice yesterday and had his right shoulder wrapped briefly. I expect Deuce Lutui to play regardless even with his conditioning issues, but if Womack can’t go, it probably makes it more important. As was guessed to start camp, Lutui’s story will be one of the main ones to watch.

— Whisenhunt talked about all the back-fade routes the Packers like to run and how it’s high stress on cornerbacks. It’s a good test, especially when seeing where rookie Patrick Peterson is right now in his development.

— And, this time is as good as any, here are a few of the position battles at which you can look (sticking mostly to starting jobs right now, unless something really jumps out at me):

WR – Obviously Fitz will start. Someone asked me if there was a way Early Doucet (pictured below) could beat out Andre Roberts. I don’t think there is going to be one true set No. 2. Roberts is going to get his playing time, but there will be some mixing-and-matching, I’d expect.

TE – Todd Heap and Jeff King are both going to play quite a bit, and I won’t be surprised if the starting lineup a few times includes two tight ends. But King is a very good blocker, and since that is not Heap’s strong suit, don’t be shocked if King gets this nod some of the time.

RT – I still expect Brandon Keith to be the guy here. But don’t underestimate Jeremy Bridges.

RG – Lutui can still make this quite an interesting battle between he and Rex Hadnot. But Hadnot doesn’t have too much to fear if Lutui can’t get his weight/conditioning in order.

ILB – I believe Daryl Washington will start. Paris Lenon is a good soldier who is solid and versatile. Can Stewart Bradley do enough to surpass him on the depth chart? I could see Lenon in a reserve role, able to fill in for both Washington and Bradley. It may be a moot point anyway, since I could see them using all three quite a bit.

CB –Peterson vs. Greg Toler vs. A.J. Jefferson vs. Richard Marshall. In terms of sheer numbers and lack of absolute locks, this position has to be sorted out. Toler and Jefferson remain with the first unit, but to see Peterson and Marshall there to start the season makes sense. So does, quite frankly, any combination of the four. This is why they make preseason, for  battles like this.

There are other end-of-the-roster issues to figure out, but like every year, the top 53 probably already has 45 or 46 locks before camp even begins. That may be more true this year than any other, because the chances of an undrafted guy doing enough to make anything more than the practice squad seems slim without an offseason.

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A night at Coconino

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2011 – 11:31 pm

The Cardinals held their one night practice of camp at Coconino High School. It was a little different than the ones of last season. With only a few days before the next preseason game, coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t do a live goal line session at the end. In fact, there was no tackling. The practice ended with a series of plays starting at the 10-yard line with first-and-goal, but it was tough to tell exactly what would have happened — linebacker Clark Haggans was particularly vocal in protesting where the ball was spotted.

— Linebacker Joey Porter was sitting out on a veteran’s day off. O’Brien Schofield is next on the depth chart behind Porter at ROLB, but it was rookie Sam Acho who was in Porter’s place Tuesday night. Interesting. Schofield is the guy who needs to make the big step forward as pass rusher this season. Although it might have been just to balance out the position — with Will Davis a LOLB, the Cards could go Acho-Schofield at ROLB and Haggans-Davis at LOLB.

— Tight end Stephen Spach (calf) and offensive lineman D.J. Young (knee) were also sitting out. So too was guard Deuce Lutui, for what I would expect to be a continuing conditioning issue.

— Cornerback Greg Toler made a nice interception in front of Larry Fitzgerald at the goal line, ripping the ball away from Fitz. (Fitz did make a spectacular Willie Mays-style over-the-head grab earlier in the practice, but really, that’s no surprise, not the way he makes the spectacular routine.)

— Wide receiver Isaiah Williams made a fantastic touchdown catch from John Skelton, making the grab in the back of the end zone just over the outstretched hand of cornerback Richard Marshall. Williams, who scored the game-winning touchdown in Oakland, has looked good in camp — one of many receivers that have shown well.

— One of those receivers, rookie DeMarco Sampson, pulled down a deep pass early in the practice despite good coverage by cornerback Marshay Green. Sampson needs to continue his work but he’s got a real shot to make this roster.

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Conditioning Deuce, and after practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2011 – 6:06 pm

Guard Deuce Lutui didn’t practice this afternoon. He spent the time with strength and conditioning coach John Lott, conditioning. That’s what coach Ken Whisenhunt said afterward. He didn’t once mention Lutui’s weight, but said it was an effort to get Deuce into proper condition to play football. Considering Lutui’s weight situation, however, it doesn’t seem to bode well for that battle. There is little question Lutui is a very good football player. But Whisenhunt just said when Lutui showed up the Cards wouldn’t have a lot of patience when it came to Deuce getting into shape. This may be a tangible example of that.

— The other thing noticeable at practice was a couple of nice throws by third-string quarterback Rich Bartel, passes out to the sideline that just cleared the linebacker but got to the receiver in front of the defensive back. Those are small windows. The race to make the team behind Kevin Kolb will be interesting this preseason.

— Linebacker Joey Porter looked pretty good pressuring the passer a few times, and showed up against Oakland too. He has to up his game after last season, and there have been signs of that.

— Both receiver Max Komar (groin) and tight end Todd Heap (thumb) were back doing some work.

— Don’t forget for anyone coming up Tuesday, there is a walk-through in the morning and then the full practice isn’t until 7 p.m. at Coconino High School — not NAU.

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Deuce’s weighty issues

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2011 – 1:06 pm

Guard Deuce Lutui is back. No one knows the numbers, but he is overweight. Clearly. And he’ll get one more chance from the Cardinals to show he can control that.

There were a couple of jokes from both coach Ken Whisenhunt — “We’ve talked a few times. And none of it was over a meal,” Whisenhunt deadpanned — and Lutui today, but Whisenhunt bluntly said the Cards are looking for Lutui to get his weight under control and quickly.

“It’s good to see Deuce and we are happy to have him back,” Whisenhunt said. “I see a commitment, but I have to see it over time. I made it very clear to him, the way he performs will be critical going forward. … If you have been in this game long enough, there are a lot of things you see that you just shake your head at. There are a number of talented players who didn’t reach their potential for a number of different reasons.

“Especially when you have a close relationship with someone like Deuce, it hurts when you see him not reach the potential you know is there.”

Lutui was gone. He had agreed to a two-year contract with the Bengals last week, but flunked his physical for being overweight.

(UPDATE: Kent Somers is reporting Deuce weighed 381 at the Cincy physical. Deuce weighed 396 last season when he came to camp. He was listed at 338 during last season.)

Suddenly, he was back on a one-year deal and, perhaps, a better understanding of the reality that seemed to irritate him the last couple of years — that the Cards wanted him to weigh less, and Lutui thinking he didn’t really have a problem. He had been looking forward to free agency, but the market wasn’t as promising as he thought. And now this.

“With this burden (of being big), this helps me,” Lutui said. “It checks my commitment. It’s a learning experience for me. … I rather go through this with the team here, and it’s a second chance to redeem myself. This will alter the way I play this season. It will elevate the way I think, the way I eat of course, and the way I play football.”

Lutui understands many people can’t fathom getting overweight when he had the potential to make millions in the free-agent market. No numbers came out, but he clearly would have made more on the Cincinnati deal than he will get in Arizona. “I know I left a lot there, but I see an opportunity … to nip the negatives about me and play football I am capable of playing.”

Lutui continues to insist “I can play heavy. But it’s not about that. It’s about the name of the game.”

Lutui said he had “no excuse” to be in this position but refuses to take it as a negative. He came back to Arizona “with a little awkwardness how I came back, but nevertheless I am walking tall. We acknowledge what has to be done.”

Lutui will have to battle quite a few other players on the interior now, although if he does get his weight under control, he would figure to be the leading candidate to be the right guard again, perhaps allowing Jeremy Bridges to play tackle in a battle with Brandon Keith. Short-term, however, this is a less about football and more about Lutui changing his life.

“We’re not going to have a lot of patience,” said Whisenhunt, who insisted he is not angry or upset at Lutui. “We have to see progress. It can’t be a yo-yo. It has to be consistent.

“It’s going to be ‘Show me.’ And I want to make it clear, we want that to happen.”

— I will have a story on TE Todd Heap’s arrival later, but man, the smile was just plastered on his face the whole time he was talking to us. Clearly, putting on the Cardinals’ hat and being a Card is a great thing for the Arizona native. He said as much too.

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An “incredible” and “fluid” week for the front office

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2011 – 10:16 am

General manager Rod Graves is hoping to make it up to Flagstaff today or tomorrow, after the whirlwind week that was. Now, there is the ability to step back a little bit and absorb what happened since a week ago today when the free agent process officially began.

Graves praised the support the front office had from president Michael Bidwill, noted the hard work put in by assistant Justin Casey, the scouting department led by director of player personnel Steve Keim and the pro personnel department fronted by director T.J. McCreight.

“We had the support to be aggressive and we all played a part,” Graves said. “We were organized from day one and we expanded the negotiating team. … But we had to be fluid every step of the way. We determined early we weren’t going to get caught up on one guy. We couldn’t afford to wait around.”

Said coach Ken Whisenhunt, “We had every position evaluated. We had players ranked. We knew where we wanted to go. If we weren’t going to be able to get in play for one guy, we’d move to the next guy.”

A good example of the smart work the group put in came at the guard position. The Cards wanted Deuce Lutui back, but when it looked like Lutui was going in a different direction, the team turned to Daryn Colledge, who it eventually signed.

No bridges were burned, however, even after Lutui agreed to sign with the Bengals. So when Lutui flunked his Cincinnati physical, the Cards and Lutui figured out a deal.

“The way that negotiation was handled allowed him to come back,” Graves said.

Whisenhunt said the group had a laundry list of ways to attack the past week. But as Graves said, the Cards were fluid, adding, for instance, a drive for a cornerback once it became clear the team was going to have to include Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Kevin Kolb trade. Yet the Cards had done their due diligence on cornerbacks already, making the eventual signing of Richard Marshall that much easier (and there were reports the Cards were farther reaching that normal, for instance talking with arguably the top free agent available, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha).

“There’s always got to be a little bit of adjustment you have to make to navigate your way through that, and once again, it was a great team effort,” Whisenhunt said. “To be honest with you, it all starts with Michael. Michael set the mentality of going into this period to be aggressive. He’d said that. He’d said that publicly, and he stood true to that.”

Said Graves, “The whole process has been incredible.”

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Hightower traded to Redskins, Deuce suddenly returns

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2011 – 3:00 pm

I suppose, in this crazy, condensed offseason, the unexpected should be expected. So I wasn’t too surprised today to hear running back Tim Hightower was traded to the Redskins, in exchange for veteran defensive end Vonnie Holliday and a sixth-round draft pick. I was, however, stunned to hear that guard Deuce Lutui flunked his physical with the Bengals, with whom he signed last week. I was also stunned to hear the Cardinals then brought him back on a one-year contract. That’s certainly not how Lutui wanted his free agency to play out. That dynamic now that he is returning, and how/if he fits into the lineup, will be very, very interesting.

As for Hightower, another good man in that locker room, it was clear when they drafted Ryan Williams that, eventually, Hightower or Beanie Wells would be moving on. I thought it might not be until after this season. Turns out it’s today. The fumbling issues really hurt Hightower. So he signed his tender and gets a shot with the Redskins (Cards at Washington, Week Two, by the way) and the Cards alleviate the crowd in the backfield and get vet depth to work along the defensive line.

Dang, I can barely keep up.

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Soon, the fast and furious

Posted by Darren Urban on July 11, 2011 – 12:51 pm

So, whenever this is over — and again, it seems closer to that than it has been, right? — to say the NFL and those of us in it will be on a fast track is possibly a monumental understatement. There are stories about potential timelines, etc., etc., but what actually happens, both with a timeline and the actual rules in place, is very much still up in the air. Regardless, as we get to the middle of July, there are hundreds of contracts to work out, for both existing players with expiring deals and undrafted rookies and the drafted rookies (That first month or so is gonna be a grind-and-a-half for Rod Graves and Justin Casey).

The Cards, like every team, have prepped for free agency long ago. They have worked out potential FA targets regarding whatever the FA rules will be. They also know which players they want to push to bring back too (no, I do not have access to that list). It’s going to be even more work than normal too, since many reports say the teams will have 90 on the roster instead of 80 for camp, a little more leeway for injuries and such in this uncertain season. You have to figure resolving the QB situation will be at the top of the to-do list, but then which way does it go? Are the Cards able to keep guys like Sendlein, Breaston and Lutui? How many undrafted free agents are going to be targeted? More important, which veteran free agents will the team chase? And where does Larry Fitzgerald’s extension fit in?

Certainly, there will be daily news flowing quickly, so there will be plenty of which to write. Now it’s about waiting to see exactly what the headlines will be, and how fast they get pushed aside for the newest development.

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A “minicamp” plan of sorts, and other stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2011 – 9:49 am

Kent Somers has some comments from safety Adrian Wilson this morning about Cards vets — notably Wilson and Larry Fitzgerald, but including guys like Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges — trying to organize a three-day “minicamp” for the players as they wait out what is hopefully the final stretch of the labor impasse.

“We’re trying to get three days in, or three practices in, depending on what guys have to do,” Wilson told Somers. “We’re not trying to take up guys’ time but we are trying to get better as a team, get better as individual units.”

There is only so much the Cards can do, assuming Wilson and Fitz can gather the troops. There are only so many troops to gather (do potential free agents like Steve Breaston and Deuce Lutui, for example, take part?) and with the knowledge the probable starting quarterback isn’t even on the roster yet makes for an interesting dynamic. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that Wilson, etc., don’t want to sit idly by.

— The news came down yesterday that because Qwest is being merged into CenturyLink, the Seahawks’ home field is no longer Qwest Field but CenturyLink Field. I re-tweeted this info yesterday, leading follower @ethanpoulsen to say “False Start Field was it’s name before…and always will be it’s name.”

As I noted on Twitter, however, the Cards have done a good job with that. The Cards have only been nailed for five false starts total in the last three visits to Seattle, and none last year (despite a bad, bad game offensively). Two other ones came from tight ends, both in 2008, by Stephen Spach and Leonard Pope. The other three were in 2009 — two by RT Levi Brown and one from LT Mike Gandy.

— Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. breaks down the Cards’ receivers. He has interesting takes on both Breaston and Andre Roberts.

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Quietly, Sendlein works

Posted by Darren Urban on June 16, 2011 – 1:30 pm

With not much else going on, the breakdowns by sites like have been interesting reads (not that they aren’t always) and as they have gotten into pass blocking of late, some Cards have taken their lumps, most notably tackles Levi Brown and Brandon Keith (Brown was ranked as second-worstleft tackle in the NFL last season, although Jeremy Bridges’ time as pass-protecting right tackle went pretty well).

Then PFF looked at guards and centers. The Cards’ guards, in terms of pass protection, weren’t in the top 15 or the bottom 15. But center Lyle Sendlein was rated as the third-best center — behind Pro Bowlers Jeff Saturday and Matt Birk — and was caught author Khaled Elsaye’s attention enough that he noted Sendlein’s spot:

“The real surprise name near the top is Lyle Sendlein. The Cardinal isn’t surrounded by the best pass protecting talent, but he gave up just two sacks and seven total quarterback disruptions. That put him ahead of (the Jets’) Nick Mangold, who may be the best center of this generation, but finished ‘only’ sixth in this look (though how much of that can be put down to injury we’ll leave to your judgment).”

Mangold, by the way, is still in the top 10 list. I’d be curious to know how Alan Faneca — who is good friends with Mangold from their days with the Jets — would compare/contrast Mangold and Sendlein.

That said, it’s no shock the Cards have liked Sendlein so much. He is way off the radar, even though he was offensive captain this past season along with Fitz. His roughest season was 2008, and he was dealing with a shoulder injury the whole time. You can debate Brown’s status, or whether Deuce Lutui would/should be re-signed, or if Keith will make it as a right tackle. There is little question, though, the Cardinals want to keep Sendlein around (his contract has expired) and I think Sendlein would like to stick around.

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