Roster moves, a sellout and a flight to Canton

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2010 – 5:42 pm

It was a relatively quiet and low-key practice this afternoon. Matt Leinart looked good in the red zone including a strike for a touchdown, John Skelton looked, well, raw (two straight picks by LB Mark Washington and S Aaron Rouse). And Derek Anderson threw a beautiful over-the-shoulder deep ball to Larry Fitzgerald.

WR Steve Breaston (knee) remained out, as did DT Alan Branch (hip flexor). Wide receiver Ed Gant was added to the injured list; he was sporting a walking boot on his right foot.

On to the other news o’ the day:

— There will be no practice Friday morning in Flagstaff, so anyone thinking about attending this week, tomorrow afternoon is the last workout. The Cards will be back to work Monday afternoon at NAU following Saturday’s preseason opener in Glendale.

— That game against the Texans, by the way, is a sellout. So it will be broadcast on local TV (ABC-15).

— The Cardinals were forced to make a roster move by waiving-injured DL Keilen Dykes (torn tricep tendon) and signing undrafted rookie John Fletcher, who was with the Ravens briefly. It’s a tough thing for Dykes, who worked his butt off coming back from a torn biceps muscle in November. He’s a very good guy and was at the facility it seems every week this summer.

— Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, the longest tenured active pro athlete in the Valley, will serve as honorary captain for Saturday’s game.

— Finally, a video has been posted chronicling the trip made by team president/pilot Michael Bidwill, owner Bill Bidwill, coach Ken Whisenhunt, and fellow coaches on their trip Saturday from Flagstaff and the team’s Red-White practice out to Canton, where they surprised Hall of Fame inductee Russ Grimm. Included are some in-flight anecdotes from Grimm’s cohorts on their Hall-bound friend.

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Another veterans’ day

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2010 – 5:50 pm

With a hard practice Wednesday night and two more workouts tomorrow, the lone practice Thursday was a low-key afternoon for some. Safety Adrian Wilson, guard Alan Faneca and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were spectators. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald took a lot of reps, but there seemed to be fewer for Early Doucet and Steve Breaston while the other wideouts got to show something. We saw more Darren Mougey and Stephen Williams than I can remember.

(And a quick aside — Williams continues to impress. He has to do it in preseason games, but at this rate, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the roster in my opinion.)

Matt Leinart had arguably his best practice. Derek Anderson seemed to struggle. Three more players were sidelined with aliments I am now trying to find out: DL Jeremy Clark, RB Alfonso Smith and WR Max Komar (although Komar was out last night too, now that I think about it).

Leinart completed a beautiful deep pass to Fitzgerald during the two-minute drill at the end of the game. Fitzgerald came down around the 10-yard line, and that was enough for coach Ken Whisenhunt, who decided to give the second units a chance. Anderson completed a fourth-down pass for a first down to Andre Roberts (who continues to bounce back from his poor Monday) and then threw a TD pass with just a few seconds left to Ed Gant when new safety Aaron Rouse took a bad angle in the end zone.

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Gant talks about suspension

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2010 – 4:57 pm

Wide receiver Ed Gant was hoping to make a run at the Cards’ fourth receiver job in training camp, and he still could make inroads. But Onrea Jones outperformed everyone in OTAs to give himself an edge, and then Gant was hit with an NFL-imposed four-game suspension last month that — even if he makes the team — will keep him out the first four regular-season games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Gant has continued to work out at the team’s Tempe facility (he can do everything with the team until the Monday before the regular season starts) and when asked about if he has dealt with the suspension mentally, he acknowledged, “Not really.”

“I’ll leave it to God’s hands,” Gant said. “All I can do is keep working, keep studying.”

As for flunking the test, Gant said he had been taking workout supplements. “I was (also) taking some pain pills and supposedly, that’s what triggered it,” Gant said. “Who knows? The NFL has spoken. … It was shocking when coach (Ken) Whisenhunt called me. But other than that, I can’t let it get to me. Stuff happens. I have to keep working.”

Tight end Ben Patrick went through the same thing last year, and Gant said Patrick has given him some encouraging words. Then again, Patrick was a front-runner to start and was in good shape to be around after his suspension ended. Gant was already facing an uphill climb to the roster and this makes it harder. He wouldn’t count against the roster while suspended, which will help his cause, but nothing is certain. Gant also talked to his brother, Redskins cornerback Philip Buchanon, who also tried to give Gant a pep talk.

“I just have to keep fighting,” Gant said. “It is what it is. I’m trying not to let it get to me.”

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Gant suspended four games

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2010 – 3:52 pm

Well, Ed Gant’s chances to be the Cards’ fourth receiver — and even to make the team — aren’t going to be helped by Monday’s announcement that he has been suspended for the first four regular-season games because he violated the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The suspension means Gant can participate in training camp and the preseason, but he has to disappear for a month once the regular season starts (just like tight end Ben Patrick last year). If he has a good camp, it makes roster choices harder at the end of camp. The one good thing is Gant wouldn’t count against the 53-man roster while he is out.

Still, with O.J. Jones having a better offseason and the Cards spending a third-round pick on Andre Roberts, this isn’t great timing for Gant — as if this could ever be timed well.

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Leinart, Cards grinding away

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2010 – 12:35 pm

The Cards finished up a second week of OTAs today with a lot of passing. The last chunk — in both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work — was 99 percent throws. I know so many are curious to know how Matt Leinart is throwing, along with Derek Anderson. Each had some good plays today, and a couple not as good. Leinart on one deep ball in 7-on-7 had Steve Breaston open, but threw over the wrong shoulder, leading Leinart to toss his helmet in disgust. But he made a nice sideline throw to Larry Fitzgerald, and during his three plays of the “competitive” 11-on-11 third-down sequence, he got Fitz on a first-down slant pass and then found Early Doucet — who was wide open — deep down the middle for a perfect score.

“That’s the fun part,” Leinart said on the final 11-on-11 period. “It’s non-scripted. It’s full speed. That’s as fast as it gets, except when you have pads it’s actually a little easier (for the offense) because you can block them. But that’s as fast as it gets and on third downs, they give you every look you can imagine, so you have to read and react. It’s just a great competitive period, and that’s how you get better.”

The defense, if you recall, won last week’s third-down period.

Leinart said he continues to feel good, and sounds upbeat. “Even last year at this time I felt good but it is different being in this position, the mindset,” Leinart said. “I am confident, I know where I am going with the ball and I am seeing the defense. Going against the first-(string) defense … you lack the experience going against the starters. You are going to throw some bad balls, you will make some mistakes. But it’s only going to continue to help me. I am so excited to play.”

Other tidbits of note as the players bail until Tuesday (and actually, so will I):

— WR Ed Gant made a few nice catches today, which was important. The Cards want more consistency out of him, and I’m not sure they had seen enough up until this point. But he handled a two Anderson bullets and a Max Hall throw that caught the attention.

— LB Joey Porter made a nice strip of TE Ben Patrick in the final stanza to prevent a first-down catch.

— RB Tim Hightower continues to run first-team. Will I be surprised if Hightower remains, technically, the “starter” even though I expect Beanie Wells to get more carries? No. I think Hightower, as a person and a player, is exactly what coach Ken Whisenhunt wants on his team and I think Hightower starting can send a message.

— There were definitely some veterans who were ready to get the heck out and start the weekend once practice ended today. I can’t blame them.

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Spirited in so many ways

Posted by Darren Urban on May 20, 2010 – 1:43 pm

One of the keys to the summer workouts — like today’s organized team activity, for instance — is to make sure the focus stays put even late in the week, when the guys are ready to blast out of town for a long weekend. So it helps to have something on the line. The Cards had their intensity at the end today when coach Ken Whisenhunt pitted offense versus defense in third-down situations. The “winner” — whichever unit did its job more often — got out of running.

So there was whooping and hollering from the defense when cornerback Greg Toler broke up the first Matt Leinart-to-Larry Fitzgerald pass. And there was the same from the offense when Fitz made a wonderful one-handed grab on the sideline. There was a lot of arguing when a first down pass from Derek Anderson to Early Doucet might have come after a “sack” of Anderson. And there was an explosion of happiness from the red shirts when Money Mike Adams broke up the final pass to Andre Roberts. The coaches from the offense had to run too, which made it even more interesting.

“From the chemistry standpoint, it shows how quickly it is building with the team,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Guys are getting along. They’ve already put in eight or nine weeks and I think when they get on the field and are able to do football things, there is always a lot of excitement. I said (to the team) today, the question is can we sustain this over the next three weeks. Based on what I have seen, it looks that way. The tempo, the enthusiasm is good. Guys are competing. If that becomes our nature, then this will have been very productive for us in the long run.”

Other stuff from today:

— Among the other plays that stood out were a beautiful 40-or-so-yard bomb from Anderson to Doucet over Justin Miller and a John Skelton 20-yard lob into the outstretched hands of 6-foot-5 WR Darren Mougey in between double coverage by Miller and Herana-Daze Jones. After the latter play, the air was filled with yelps of “MOO-gee.”

— At one point early in the practice, WR Ed Gant made a catch as he headed for the sideline. He gained control and sprinted upfield to finish the play — even as he was about three yards out of bounds on the field closest to the team headquarters. “We playing on an expanded field?” linebacker Monty Beisel said, turning to Gant and adding, “Watch out for the building!”

— Former University of Arizona football coach Dick Tomey — whose son, Rich, works for the team in business development — was on hand to watch practice.

— Rookie nose tackle Dan Williams continues to work with the first-team dime unit.

— Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was clearly exasperated that his latest back-and-forth with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caused a stir in some places, enough so that he put out this tweet right after practice: “Lol look people me and @VernonDavis85 are cool and been friends B4 the NFL and we will be after the NFL so yall stop taking shhh so serious.”

— WR Steve Breaston was sporting some very red gloves again and I figured there had to be a reason. An ability to get the attention of the quarterback easier, perhaps? Nope. Turns out that he got them from Adams. “I wore them a lot last year,” Breaston said, unsure why I was the third or fourth person to notice them today. “Maybe it’s because they’re clean.”

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Playing 60

Posted by Darren Urban on May 6, 2010 – 2:38 pm

I spent the morning out at University of Phoenix Stadium, where the NFL’s “Play 60” campaign — the one where the league tries to encourage kids to get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day — was culminating locally with a special event out on one of the lawns around the stadium. Twelve local schools participated in the “Play 60” challenge and the top 50 students from each school got to attend Thursday’s fun, which included appearances by a handful of Cards: Stevie Baggs (pretending to take on a “ballcarrier” below), Ben Graham, Ryan Kees, Reagan Maui’a, Dean Muhtadi and Ed Gant (below both expressing surprise after a “made” field goal). Cardinals cheerleaders conducted a clinic, local “Biggest Loser” contestants Sione and Filipe Fa and ex-Cards Robert Tate and MarTay Jenkins took part, and of course, Big Red was there too.

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As minicamp arrives

Posted by Darren Urban on April 29, 2010 – 11:24 am

It feels like we were just here, prepping for minicamp, waiting for Beanie Wells to arrive from the airport for his introductory press conference, wondering what Fan Fest would be like coming off a Super Bowl appearance. The years certainly zoom by.

But this minicamp, for so many reasons, seems more intriguing that most. Many years there is a storyline or two that excites; in 2006, Matt Leinart’s first time on the field, last year it was about Beanie. But for sheer number of important and interesting topics to follow, this one may reign. A few of the key things to pay attention to starting tomorrow (minicamp is two practices Friday, two Saturday, one Sunday morning):

Lining up on offense: Adding Alan Faneca to the offensive line mix has really made that unit tops to watch. Faneca will be in there, that much seems obvious. How will Levi Brown do moving to left tackle from the right side? Who is the right tackle — Reggie Wells? Brandon Keith? Jeremy Bridges? Can Herman Johnson make a play? Does Deuce Lutui sign his tender and force the Cards to keep him on the field? Where does Rex Hadnot fit? Offensive line coach Russ Grimm told me “we will play the best five.” Who will that be?

Small-school corners: DRC is already a lock, hailing from Tennessee State. Now the other starting corner is probably going to be Greg Toler, from Saint Paul’s in Virginia. Toler did well in short stints as a rookie, but he has to prove he can hold up. And with Bryant McFadden gone, who steps up as a nickel guy?

Those inside ‘backers: Can Daryl Washington show something early? Will the pressure of replacing Karlos Dansby fall to Paris Lenon? And what about a guy like Ali Highsmith — can he make a run at playing time while Washington grows up in the NFL?

Oh yeah, there’s the quarterback: It’s Leinart’s time to take control of the QB position. But Derek Anderson has a little something to prove too, and he’s probably anxious to show that outside of what had become a toxic situation in Cleveland. Anderson should push Leinart. The Cards really need Leinart to respond in a good way.

There are other things to watch too, like how Dan Williams looks at nose tackle, or if Andre Roberts can outperform unknowns like Ed Gant, or even what the outside linebackers look like with Joey Porter and possibles such as Stevie Baggs and Mark Washington.

(And fans obviously can take a look at the public Saturday practice at Fan Fest; click here for all the details).

Football is here again.

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After the second day

Posted by Darren Urban on April 23, 2010 – 9:56 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt made a joke earlier this week about the Cards taking “the best player available that fits the our need.” This year, he wasn’t kidding. Three picks, three players that just so happened to fit major holes, capped by the slot receiver/punt returner Andre Roberts in the third round. So after that (and the choice of LB Daryl Washington in the second round), some thoughts:

— There are clearly some of you out there less than thrilled about the Roberts pick. Know this — the Cards have been looking for a punt returning alternative for Steve Breaston for a while. Not because Breaston isn’t good, but because he has become that valuable as a receiver. Before Roberts, there wasn’t anyone on the roster that was a true candidate. The Cards also needed speed at receiver. Roberts has some of that as a former track guy. They needed a slot guy. Roberts does that. They needed another candidate as fourth receiver, since the leading in-house candidates were unknown quantities in Ed Gant and Onrea Jones.

Plus, Whisenhunt likes the idea of a guy from the Citadel. Don’t get him wrong. Roberts is here because of what he does on the field. But add that to surviving and thriving at a military school, well, Whiz likes that. His father attended the school and he knows what it is about (Whiz took a visit there before going to Georgia Tech).

— The last NFL player drafted from the Citadel? In 2005, the Redskins spent a seventh rounder on a fullback named Nehemiah Broughton — who just happens to be Roberts’ new teammate on the Cards. Of the 12 Citadel players drafted in history, six have been Cards at one point.

— The Cards have been big on the small schools. Roberts, TE Ben Patrick (Delaware), T Brandon Keith (Northern Iowa), RB Tim Hightower (Richmond), CB Greg Toler (St. Pauls) and DRC (Tennessee State) have all been taken since Whiz came aboard. “Because we have had success with those guys,” Whisenhunt said, “we may be a little less inclined to be scared of that.”

— I think the move to get Washington was important. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis loves the idea of Washington coming in to (eventually) fill Karlos Dansby’s shoes. Davis told a story of putting on a tape of a Clemson-TCU game, when running back C.J. Spiller (who went ninth in the draft to Buffalo) caught a swing pass and the only thing in the flat to stop Spiller was Washington. And there was 10 yards in between the two. Nevertheless, Washington “gets him down easily,” Davis said.

“It’s one play,” Davis siad. “But the athleticism …  if you start with speed and athleticism, which you can’t teach. T hen talk to him, he’s a classy young man and football means a lot to him. I talked for maybe two hours. I know he’s sharp enough to learn the NFL system.”

— By the way, the Cards have zero concerns about Washington’s size and/or weight. And the idea is, if Dan Williams and the rest of the defensive line succeeds as planned, Washington will have the space to use his skills to make plays.

— With three picks left, I expect serious consideration on two of them to go to offensive line and defensive back. But in terms of the offensive line, that’s why they signed Rex Hadnot and why they have groomed Keith. That’s why the re-signed Jeremy Bridges. Do they want to keep stockpiling? Yes. But just because some pundits (and some fans) see offensive line as this major need doesn’t mean the Cards do as well.

— If the drop of Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy proves anything, it’s how weak this QB class is considered. Because of that, I won’t be surprised to see the Cards get a rookie QB, but after the draft as an undrafted free agent.

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Signings and a new wideout

Posted by Darren Urban on March 23, 2010 – 10:27 am

Some small moves went down today. Tight end Ben Patrick and fullback Nehemiah Broughton each signed their one-year tender offers — Patrick was a restricted free agent, so he doesn’t have a chance to sign any offer sheets anywhere now — while the Cards also brought back safety Hamza Abdullah. They hadn’t tendered Abdullah, but bringing him back as depth potential isn’t a surprise, especially since Matt Ware remains unsigned.

The Cards also added a receiver to the roster, and he’s a local guy. Darren Mougey went to San Diego State but he prepped at Scottsdale Chaparral High School, which also produced center Lyle Sendlein (oh, and a certain writer too). Sendlein was a senior linebacker calling plays for the Firebirds when Mougey was a sophomore safety. Later, Mougey became Chaparral’s quarterback in leading them to a state title, and went to San Diego State as a QB. But the 6-foot-6 Mougey was eventually moved to wide receiver for his last two seasons, when he totaled 66 catches for 805 yards and seven touchdowns. He was signed by the Falcons as an undrafted rookie last year but cut before the season started.

With Anquan Boldin and Jerheme Urban gone and Sean Morey potentially leaving for Seattle, the Cards suddenly need to think about the position. The only other wideouts behind Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet are practice-squad holdovers Onrea Jones and Ed Gant.

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