Noticing Arenas

Posted by Darren Urban on May 23, 2013 – 10:41 am

The trade when it was made was one of necessity — the Cardinals were not going to need nor keep fullback Anthony Sherman, and at that point, they wanted to get anything they could. The Chiefs, with new coach Andy Reid — a guy who likes bigger cornerbacks — wasn’t going to keep 5-foot-9 Javier Arenas around. So the teams swapped. And even though the Cards have a glut of cornerbacks right now, Arenas (wearing 35 below) sure seems to be making his mark. He has made some plays, and while it’s only May, most of the time it’s only the receivers and defensive backs that you can get at least a little flavor for while these guys are in shorts.

Now, would you stand Arenas on the edge starting across from Patrick Peterson? Probably not. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s clear that Jerraud Powers and then Antoine Cason are running as the top two corners after Peterson right now. But in a passing league where you hoard cornerbacks, Arenas can play inside and has experience on the outside if needed. As it stands right now, I think he’ll make a strong push to be here.

What else is noticeable is the current spot of 2012 third-round pick Jamell Fleming. Much has been made of the ability of the Cardinals to split their roster into two different OTA workouts for much of every practice day. It gives the younger players many more reps than they would ever get normally (and allows the vets learning a new system plenty of work too.) But that means some guys who were on the 53-man roster last season are practicing over on the second field. Fleming is one of them. Again, it allows him to get reps he wouldn’t be getting on the main field. But when the numbers come down, Fleming looks like he’s down the depth chart (especially with fellow second-year man Justin Bethel, now working at cornerback, has been on the main field.)


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For now, you can’t have too many corners

Posted by Darren Urban on May 3, 2013 – 11:20 am

The trade earlier this week for cornerback Javier Arenas provided the Cardinals their 10th cornerback on the roster. That isn’t a surprise, but when seven of them have NFL experience already, the numbers alone will make for a very interesting battle heading into training camp. It doesn’t matter who the coaches have been that I have covered over the years, every single one — when asked about a situation like this — likes to say, “You can never have too many cornerbacks.” True, but you can’t keep too many cornerbacks either.

The quick lineup, aside from Arenas: Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason, Jamell Fleming, Justin Bethel, Bryan McCann and three UDFAs in Josh Hill, Prentiss Waggner and Ronnie Yell.

(And as a quick aside: I think the Cards didn’t mind adding another corner, but realize that they were going to get rid of fullback Anthony Sherman regardless, and if the only option coming back was a corner like Arenas, it’s better than just cutting Sherman loose.)

Here are the facts thus far when it comes to this cornerback situation:

— In minicamp, Powers was with the first unit opposite Peterson. Now, Cason seemed to be nursing some kind of leg injury that may have limited him, but again, it was Powers who signed the three-year contract. He might be getting the first shot there.

— Bethel was told he’d be playing corner rather than safety when the coaches first got a chance to talk to him. But who knows, given the cornerback/safety situation (the Cards have seven safeties and much less experience there) maybe Bethel ends up a swing guy again.

— This math of course counts Tyrann Mathieu as a safety because that’s what Bruce Arians said he’d be at first, but Mathieu also could be a nickel corner.

— Arenas’ size (5-9) seems to dictate he’d be a slot cover guy only.

— The numbers and influx of guys will make the second offseason for Fleming very, very interesting and very important. Third-round picks usually are locks to stay a second season. But with a new staff, you never know.

— Usually, teams keep nine or 10 defensive backs. With nine, you could see four cornerbacks and five safeties or, given this roster, probably five and four.

— It does open up trade possibilities, like when the Cards dealt A.J. Jefferson at the end of the preseason last year given their glut at the position.


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With Sherman swap, the shuffling continues

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2013 – 11:39 am

So Anthony Sherman is gone, a victim of a regime change more than anything else, with his trade to K.C. today in exchange for cornerback Javier Arenas. This is what happens when new coaches come in (and obviously, both the Chiefs and Cards have new coaches) and existing players are deemed expendable. In Sherman’s case, he plays a position that isn’t used in Bruce Arians’ offense. In Arenas’ case, the Chiefs had brought on a bunch of cornerbacks and he was looking to be moved, although he comes to a team with a ton of potential cornerbacks as well — in addition to a safety (Tyrann Mathieu) who could end up playing slot receivers like Arenas is best suited for. Arenas came into the league in the 2010 draft.

ESPN scout Matt Williamson tweeted this about Arenas: “Pure slot CB-Size hurts him, but fiesty & big time asset on special teams.” It’s a crowded secondary now. Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason, Justin Bethel, Jamell Fleming and Bryan McCann all have experience in the league and now Arenas comes aboard. Someone isn’t making it to September (unless the Cards end up sliding Bethel back to safety to ease the logjam.)

More importantly, it’s yet another move as General Manager Steve Keim continues to overhaul the roster with Arians’ vision of what he needs. The Cardinals currently have 88 players on the roster and 45 of them are new. Now, 25 of them are rookies so they were going to be new regardless. But the number of veterans — veterans that played large roles on the team last year — that have been cut or traded continues to move up. The transactions list has a ton of action, and May just started.  I count 31 moves where the Cards either made a trade, signed a veteran from outside the team or released a player.

(And to think, when Arenas lined up against Larry Fitzgerald during the Cards-Chiefs joint practice last August, you think either one contemplated being teammates?)


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Bethel localizes his leap

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2013 – 10:20 am

Sometimes, a blog post is just simple. We all remember Justin Bethel’s video box jump coming to light when he was drafted last year. Well, it was apparently time to get a new jump in at the Cardinals’ facility. Sorry, no video, but there are pictures. Click the image below to see it much larger. That’s Jamell Fleming (who is 5-foot-11) holding the extra pad to increase the height. And Scott Wedige off to the side.

It actually looks a little like Adrian Wilson this way.


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From quiet to crazy in free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on March 13, 2013 – 4:45 pm

The first day was quiet. Today, not so much.

In come a host of free agents (many necessary after the recent purge of veterans): a quarterback in Drew Stanton, a running back in Rashard Mendenhall, a linebacker/special teamer in Lorenzo Alexander, a cornerback in Jerraud Powers and a safety in Yeremiah Bell. The Bell thing came out of left field a bit, but so too did the release of safety Kerry Rhodes. Dropping both starting safeties in less than a week’s time.

A quick note on Rhodes. The team saves $6 million in both cap space and cash outlay by letting him go in 2013. There was no way that was ever going to stand. The plan late in the season last year was to extend Rhodes’ deal and lower that 2013 number. I don’t know what happened exactly, but I still think there was talk in that regard even after the regime change. Rhodes hits an open market with a secondary glut, and he’ll be fighting Charles Woodson, Ed Reed and Adrian Wilson, among others, for a job. I do not think Bell is to be Rhodes’ long-term solution. For 2013? Maybe. Let’s see how the rest of free agency goes and how the draft plays out. The draft is deep in safeties, and remember, GM Steve Keim said one of the things he wanted to do this year was take a big picture view of how the draft and free agency fit together based on available players in both areas.

As for the players the Cardinals signed, we will see how it plays out. I’m not going to sit here and say they are saviors. But we don’t know how they will fit. I found it interesting, when Stanton was talking about the offensive line, that he mentioned that a change in scheme could change the way a unit or player played. We usually look at the downside of that, but there can be upside too. I don’t know how they will fit.

If Powers stays healthy, I think that can be a good signing, and if the Cardinals manage to nab Antoine Cason too — he will visit soon — to go with Patrick Peterson, all the better. There are still young players like Jamell Fleming and Justin Bethel to add in the mix, and that factors in too. Bell in the end could just be this year’s James Sanders. Mendenhall said he is healthy and has been since about the middle of last season, which is good for a player who could end up being the main back — depending how Ryan Williams responds.

There are more moves to come. Stanton’s arrival, as I keep repeating, doesn’t bode well for the future of Kevin Kolb and that decision has to be made probably by Friday anyway, since his roster bonus is due over the weekend. Linebacker Rey Maualuga left Wednesday without a deal, but reportedly Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley is coming in for a visit. Then there is the Josh Cribbs watch, with multiple reports still have him in conversations with the Cards.

There’s a whole offseason to analyze the moves. And I’m sure we all will.


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Horton doesn’t want to forget Seattle, Fleming’s struggle

Posted by Darren Urban on December 14, 2012 – 1:46 pm

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton wasn’t happy with his unit’s performance in last weekend’s 58-0 blowout loss in Seattle. But that doesn’t mean he wants to flush it either.

“I hope they never forget that,” Horton said. “We have to own that as a whole team. It’s embarassing as a whole team. I hope I never forget that. I think it was just a cavalcade of dominoes falling. We couldn’t turn off the faucet. It was awful.”

Yet Horton regained a measure of optimism after seeing the defense rebound mentally. Normally, Horton said, it’s tough not to be down after such a performance on Monday and Tuesday but that things get back to normal by Wednesday. This Wednesday, Horton said he was still “a little down.”

“Darnell (Dockett) came to me and said, ‘Hey coach, we still have a lot to play for, what are we doing (this week)?’ ” Horton said. “We are prepared. We are all on the same page.”

— Horton said one defensive player he thought played well last week was cornerback Patrick Peterson. Like everyone else, Horton is looking forward to seeing Peterson versus Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. “Patrick is ready for this guy,” Horton said. “It’s probably a statement game for Patrick. It will be an interesting spotlight on him this week. … It’s important for him to prove his elite status.”

Horton also has no problem with Peterson talking in public. “They’re the ones that have to back it up. I encourage them to be bold and assertive. If he believes that, and if he wants to say that, I am sure everyone else will try to co-sign that check for him.”

— Rookie cornerback Jamell Fleming, however, is apparently in a totally different place. The third-round pick was a healthy scratch last week, and Horton said after Fleming was excellent early in the season (most notably in New England) his play fell off and thus, so did his playing time.

“I need him to grow-up, mature and be professional and in my opinion he’s not at that point yet,” Horton said bluntly. “He came in and was very productive, very productive in the New England game. I think he had a sense of lull or complacency. I talked to him about that.

“I think he probably thought, ‘There is nothing to this league, I don’t have to prepare, I don’t have to study, I don’t have to challenge myself.’ And you really do, every day, or you get run by.”

Fleming said his reaction was just to do what Horton said. Asked if he too thought he had become complacent, Fleming said “You could say that. I don’t know if I would say that myself, but something like that.”

Fleming did say he didn’t have an issue with how blunt Horton was with him. “Him being honest is what I want,” Fleming said.

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Roberts, Campbell active for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2012 – 12:58 pm

The Cardinals will have WR Andre Roberts and DE Calais Campbell active today, which is a good sign. The surprise inactive today is rookie cornerback Jamell Fleming, who has been dealing with a back issue but more importantly has lost snaps over recent weeks falling down the depth chart.

Also inactive:

— QB Kevin Kolb (ribs)

— DE Ronald Talley (ankle)

— WR LaRon Byrd

— G Senio Kelemete

— T Pat McQuistan

— TE Kory Sperry

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is active, but given his on-field argument with Kerry Rhodes last weekend and his disagreement with the decision of the coaching staff at the end of the Jets game, he is expected to lose some playing time. With Talley out, the Cards figure they will need Dockett.

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Routt not on radar

Posted by Darren Urban on November 8, 2012 – 10:59 am

A national report yesterday noted that recently released cornerback Stanford Routt, cut by the Chiefs, was “drawing interest” from multiple teams around the league. The Cardinals were named specifically. The Cards might have looked into the possibility, but I have been told the Cardinals do not have interest in signing Routt (The Dolphins, also named specifically, also are not pursuing him.)

The Routt situation is interesting. On the surface he looks intriguing. But it says something that, in a league starving for cover guys, he has now been released twice since the end of last season, by the Raiders and now the Chiefs. As always, in this league, there is a reason players are cut. Sometimes it’s a lucky break for another team out there but often times, there is something behind it. Teams don’t usually cut good players.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, need more consistent play from their own cornerbacks. Patrick Peterson has been admittedly up and down, newcomer William Gay has been struggling, rookie Jamell Fleming has looked like a rookie and Greg Toler has been injured. The Cards should have the players there, but they have to have the performance.

At this point, I am not expecting new players on the roster coming out of the bye — other than defensive end Ronald Talley, signed yesterday — and we’ll have to check in with coach Ken Whisenhunt after practice Monday to see if there were any depth chart or positional changes that might be coming down the pike.

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Friday before the Bills

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2012 – 4:03 pm

There will be many things that people will be waiting to see Sunday when the Cards finally kick off against the Bills – how the Cards’ run game looks, whether the Bills have recovered from a couple of historical beat-downs – but from the Cardinals’ side of the fence, it’ll be Arizona’s first few pass plays that will be under the microscope. The Bills won’t have (struggling) defensive end Mark Anderson, although they do have (struggling) defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and (struggling) defensive end Mario Williams. There has been plenty of talk not surprisingly, from the Buffalo perspective that their pass rush can get healthy against the Cards. It’s vice versa for the Cards, who count on righting the pass-protection ship after surrendering 17 sacks the past two games.

“If you go into the game thinking that you are going to do that just because, you could be in for a rude awakening,” Mario Williams said. “If we go out and think, ‘Oh well, it’s going to be easy because the last two teams did this,’ we could be in for a rude awakening.”

Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb spoke again this week about how there were many facets in the pas game that need to do better to improve the pass protection. Someone suggested more three-step drops for Kolb, which the quarterback dismissed. “You can’t just go to three-step drops,” Kolb said. “That’s not the way the game is.”

You can’t just do a lot of anything. Pro teams – and pro coaches – figure that out soon enough. Leave more guys in to block? OK, but that’s fewer people in pass routes, and fewer options for which Kolb to pass. Coach Ken Whisenhunt knows he needs better technique from his blockers, better protection schemes and better overall play. There’s will have been 10 days to try and iron some of this out.

— There are two banged-up teams going out to play. With cornerbacks Greg Toler and Michael Adams doubtful, it sure sounds like rookie Jamell Fleming will be thrust back into a prominent defensive role. And kind-of-newcomer Crezdon Butler may be active right off the bat after being away from the team since being cut at the end of the preseason. The Bills, meanwhile, are missing a pair of starting offensive linemen themselves.

— Cornerback William Gay, who stands to start across from Patrick Peterson again Sunday, has struggled at times. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said it is technique issues with Gay, and along those lines, Gay’s role was reduced against the Rams. “Obviously, he’s capable,” Horton said. “He had a good week of practice. We reduced his role and message sent, I believe. Now, whether message was received or not, we’ll find out.”

— The Bills have allowed 97 points the last two games, to the Patriots and 49ers. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Cardinals will suddenly break out, but if the Cards’ offense is going to have a chance to improve, this is a matchup you want.

— Quarterback John Skelton is listed as probable for the first time since his ankle injury. I fully expect Kolb to start – who wouldn’t? – but Skelton, I would guess, would be the backup. After that, I don’t know if we are going to have any big announcement or not. The Cards are going to go through the gauntlet on the schedule after this game, at Minnesota, home against the Niners, at Green Bay and at Atlanta, which will be rough on whoever is playing QB.

— Today is Adrian Wilson’s birthday. He turned 33. His biceps don’t look a day over 27.

— Yes, I used that on Twitter.

— Speaking of birthdays, analyst and Cardinals Underground compatriot Ron Wolfley turns 50 Sunday, with the Cards playing against his hometown team. How great is that?

— The Cards are wearing black Sunday, as a reminder. And pink. This is the annual Breast Cancer Awareness game, in case you are still putting together your gameday outfit.

— It probably saved an interception return for a touchdown – and it wasn’t even flagged at the time – but wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was dinged for a $7,850 fine from the NFL after grabbing cornerback Janoris Jenkins’ facemask on a play against the Rams. The Rams didn’t escape fines for their play, though. Two players were nailed for roughing up Kevin Kolb – defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo was fined $7,875 for roughing the passer when he ripped Kolb’s helmet off, while defensive end Robert Quinn was fined $15,750 for hitting Kolb helmet-to-helmet.

— Fitz needs 48 receiving yards to reach 10,000 in his career.

— Fitz, by the way, wasn’t about to pop off about the Bills’ struggles. “I always remember my grandfather said, you let a sleeping dog lie,” he said. “We just don’t want to ruffle any feathers and try to sneak out of here with a ‘W’ without getting anyone upset.”

It seems like it’s been forever since the Cards last played.

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Wednesday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 3, 2012 – 3:10 pm

Maneuvering through a short week is difficult. The flip side, of course, will be Friday, and Saturday and Sunday and the extra days off. That could really benefit the Cards as banged up as they have been.

But they have to get through Thursday first. And truthfully, those benefits would feel a little bit better with a victory in St. Louis.

“(A short week) is pretty tough, but I think everyone in this locker room feels the same way – we’ve put together four decent games and are in position to be 4-0 and have an opportunity to play on national TV in front of the masses,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “I think guys are relishing the opportunity.”

I do get the sense that the vibe is better for this Thursday game than it was back in 2008, for the Thanksgiving game in Philly. Back then, it didn’t feel like anyone was relishing anything. It showed on the field. This team is in a different place. We’ll see how it plays out on the turf.

— Andre Roberts has four touchdown catches – that’s the most of any receiver in the NFL right now. He’s a long way from training camp of 2011, when every “name” receiver that popped up as available quickly was linked to the Cardinals. Roberts has become a real weapon – he has been since midseason last year – but as usual, downplays his situation.

I asked him if he thought he had crossed some kind of threshold as a player. “I don’t know if it is a threshold,” Roberts said. “I just try to make the best out of my opportunities. When it comes my way, I want to make the most of it.”

The steady play of Kevin Kolb and the clutch play late in the Miami game obviously plays well with teammates. But it’s also about a settling of the position. That’s all the rest of the Cards ever wanted was to find a player who was effective. They don’t care if it is Kolb or John Skelton.

“I’m pleased it’s not become an ordeal in the locker room,” center Lyle Sendlein said.

— It will be interesting to see who is playing cornerback across from Patrick Peterson. Will Greg Toler stay there after finishing the game at the spot? Does William Gay, who struggled, go back? If Toler gets more time, given that Gay stayed at nickel last game when that happened, it looks like rookie Jamell Fleming will be the one losing defensive snaps. Toler was the starter last year before he got hurt. I’m sure he’d like to regain that spot for good.

— The Rams are not the same team they were. They barely lost to the Lions and had they won that game, Jeff Fisher’s bunch would be 3-1. “This team is not sitting here with aspirations of going to the Super Bowl, because I think those things are unrealistic at this time of the year,” Fisher said. “Realistic goals are improving, accepting the next challenge, and doing whatever it takes to try to win the next game.” It’d be a big feather in the cap to beat division rivals Seattle and Arizona in back-to-back home games. The Cards will be tested to make sure that doesn’t happen.

— As I mentioned before, the Cardinals could make some headway with their struggling running game. They need to. Ryan Williams figures to get more carries. St. Louis has always been a place where Cards’ runners can get healthy, stats-wise.

— Speaking of guys who pop in St. Louis, Adrian Wilson is one. Against the Rams, he has six career interceptions and 7½ career sacks. Plus he is coming off a strong game, even if his diving interception (below) was eventually eliminated. Wilson thought the Rams, in 2001, might draft him with multiple high picks. They didn’t. He remembers.

Bring on Thursday night.

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