Practice squad pick, Dockett’s life, Wright’s work

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2011 – 9:28 am

To follow up on the Cardinals’ roster moves from yesterday, the team filled its empty practice squad spot this morning by signing safety Mark LeGree to the practice squad. LeGree was a fifth-round pick of the Seahawks — coincidentally, the Cards’ opponent this week — before being cut at the end of training camp. LeGree played at Appalachian State (a friend who is also an alum likes to needle me by calling it the “real ASU”) and had 22 interceptions over four seasons and 53 games.

— In the meantime, while the Cards get back to the practice field later, here are a couple of Cards-related links. One comes from ESPN, after the network did a very nice video piece on their NFL Sunday Countdown show about the upbringing of defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, which explains a lot about his personality. (Once, I wrote a similar story, when Darnell was a rookie. I forgot he originally wore the No. 61. Here is the story — sorry I couldn’t get it in one pdf — part one, part two, and part three).

— Dockett’s story is one of a kind, but so too is the tale of recently retired running back Jason Wright, who I already knew was kind of an amazing person but I didn’t know how much until I read this Sean Jensen Yahoo story. I wish Wright was still on the team — I am sure the Cards do too — but it’s hard to argue against seeing the bigger picture. It will never get the same kind of publicity as Pat Tillman — and certainly, Wright is not putting his life on the line like Pat did — but in some ways, Wright walking away is similar to the choice Tillman once made.

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Jason Wright retires

Posted by Darren Urban on July 18, 2011 – 4:17 pm

Kent Somers broke the news today that running back Jason Wright – a special teams ace and one of the anchors of the locker room – has decided to retire. It’s not a surprise. Quite frankly, it was a little bit of an open secret late in the year and, the day after the season, Wright acknowledged that was the plan. He didn’t want it publicized yet because he hadn’t yet talked to the coaching staff, and then, with the labor issues, I couldn’t talk to him directly.

But Wright had some thoughts that day after the Cards finished up in San Francisco. The Northwestern grad, who is now in business school at the University of Chicago, just said it was “time.”

“There are lots of reasons I can give,” Wright said. “Honestly, I love football and I love this team too much for any of them to be good enough. The real reason is me, and every single member of my family feels like it might be that time. It’s more of a subjective thing.

“I’m going to miss it a lot. I’m going to miss it a lot.”

Wright was the perfect fit as a fourth running back with Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling. He was a mentor, a sounding board, a voice of reason for the backs and the entire team. (He was also a go-to quote in the locker room, able to speak eloquently on any subject).

Wright did miss some time with a concussion last season, and for any player that can give pause, not to mention someone as brilliant as Wright. But he insisted his choice had nothing to do with concussions or bodily harm.

“My body, I probably have two years left at the level I am playing at, or one and maybe stretch it into two,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s not that at all. It’s just the right time. I feel like I am ready for the next step.”

He said he wouldn’t mind working in the NFL in the future, perhaps even helping someone like Michael Bidwill run a franchise.

“Who knows?” Wright said. “I may come calling (the Cardinals) again.”

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Considering the crowded backfield

Posted by Darren Urban on May 5, 2011 – 9:49 am

Last year, the Cardinals had four running backs: Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Jason Wright. One time, in Kansas City, both LSH and Wright were out with injuries. Stephens-Howling missed two other games. Beanie missed three games himself (Hightower played in all 16 games). In all, there were 10 games in which the Cards had and used all four backs.

It can work and, given how much practice was missed during the season as one or more of them had nagging aliments, all four were needed.

That’s the backdrop this year with the addition of second-round pick Ryan Williams, the surprising – to a point – choice in the draft. Wright was leaning heavily toward retirement at the end of the season, so the Cards were going to need another back to continue its ratio. Of course, the questions many have aren’t about whether the Cards need four backs, it’s how much playing time each will get.

Hightower had a pretty good season last year and earned the starting job he had nearly all season. But no one – including coach Ken Whisenhunt – is going to forget Hightower’s fumbling issues. Wells has a load of talent, but seemed to take a step back last season with injuries and never found a rhythm all season (although, arguably, the running game was behind the eight-ball given the offense’s circumstances most of the year). The Hyphen flashed every time he had a chance as a back, but he is undersized and has importance on special teams.

“It wasn’t done with the idea of sending one of those guys a message,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the pick, and on the surface, I do believe the Cardinals forcefully went into the draft looking to take the best players available  – as they saw them – regardless of the position.

There is little question, though, that they want more from the veteran running backs, and Wells in particular. Beanie told Craig Morgan he understood what the Cards were doing and is even planning to bring both Williams and rookie fullback Anthony Sherman out to Arizona to work out with him. Beanie mentioned “if I’m getting better, I can send a message.”

Anyone following a NFL team has to understand the business part rears up often. I’m sure Edgerrin James didn’t see Hightower replacing him halfway through 2008, just as no one guessed Williams would  be an early pick this season. It’s tough not to note, however, that Whisenhunt continues to mention how the Cards were 5-11 last season, so everything needs to be better. That includes the running game as a whole, and the running backs individually. Williams, in theory, should help that. How it eventually shakes out the depth chart (or, possibly, the roster makeup), well, that’s the storyline everyone has to watch play out.

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Who is expiring?

Posted by Darren Urban on March 3, 2011 – 2:53 pm

Regardless of the status of the CBA, the Cardinals have a chunk of players whose contracts will expire whenever the league year ends. What that means for free agency is uncertain because the CBA will address those rules. But as an FYI, here is a list of the current Cardinals who will have their contract run out this offseason. If a player has an asterisk, he has at least four accrued seasons in the NFL:

  • FB Nehemiah Broughton
  • RB Tim Hightower
  • FB Reagan Maui’a
  • RB Jason Wright*
  • WR Max Komar
  • WR Steve Breaston*
  • WR Early Doucet
  • TE Ben Patrick
  • TE Stephen Spach
  • T D’Anthony Batiste
  • C Ben Claxton
  • G Alan Faneca*
  • T Brandon Keith
  • G Deuce Lutui*
  • C Lyle Sendlein*
  • DL Alan Branch*
  • DL Keilen Dykes
  • DE Kenny Iwebema
  • DL Bryan Robinson*
  • DT Gabe Watson*
  • LB Curtis Gatewood
  • LB Cyril Obiozor
  • LB Reggie Walker
  • S Hamza Abdullah
  • CB Michael Adams
  • CB Trumaine McBride
  • S Matt Ware*
  • P Ben Graham*

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Cards bring back Komar, promote Green

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2010 – 11:55 am

The Cardinals shuffled the roster today, including making the expected move of putting linebacker Will Davis on injured reserve with his broken leg. The Cards also cut running back Alfonso Smith, who became redundant with the expected return of both LaRod Stephens-Howling and Jason Wright.

With two spots open on the roster, the Cardinals re-signed wide receiver Max Komar and promoted cornerback Marshay Green from the practice squad (and it will be interesting to see if Green manages to get some work with the Cards’ cornerbacks struggling). For now, the Cards will have an opening on the practice squad.

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Dockett active; Toler, Hyphen, Wright sit

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2010 – 9:41 am

The inactives are out for the game. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is active today, which is a good sign for the defense. Cornerback Greg Toler (foot) is not. Alfonso Smith will get some work at running back as well, with LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring) and Jason Wright (concussion) both sitting out. Linebacker Clark Haggans is also inactive with the lingering groin injury.

The rest of the inactive list:

  • QB John Skelton
  • LB Cyril Obiozor
  • LB Reggie Walker
  • C Ben Claxton

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With backs ailing, Cards activate Alfonso Smith

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2010 – 10:43 am

The Cardinals have activated running back Alfonso Smith to the active roster from the practice squad, no shock given that Beanie Wells is dealing with an iffy knee, Jason Wright is coming off a concussion and LaRod Stephens-Howling missed practice all week because of a bad hamstring. All three of those backs were listed as questionable, and my guess is that things didn’t get significantly better Saturday — leading to Smith’s promotion.

To make room for Smith, the Cards released wide receiver Max Komar (although my guess is this isn’t the last time we see Komar in a Cards uniform).

Smith can play some special teams and could see some significant time there, depending on what happens with the active players on game day. After the Hyphen didn’t practice all week, I find it hard to see a scenario where he plays. And Wright has been steadfast all week he doesn’t want to take any risks with his head injury. “I need this brain,” Wright said earlier in the week. I do expect Beanie to play.

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Lots of questionable

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2010 – 12:55 pm

Eight Cardinals are questionable for Sunday, so I suppose the good news is that no one is doubtful or out — although LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring) did not practice yet again Friday. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Hyphen will be checked again tomorrow, and for instance, if he can only return kickoffs, the Cards will consider that.

Seven others (the rest of the questionable list) were officially limited: DT Darnell Dockett (shoulder), LB Clark Haggans (groin), S Kerry Rhodes (hand/back), CB Greg Toler (foot), LB Reggie Walker (just added Friday with a hamstring), RB Beanie Wells (knee) and RB Jason Wright (concussion). Whisenhunt said Wells “looked like his old self” and sounded somewhat optimistic in his tone when talking about Dockett, although Dockett has to be cleared with a strength test on game day to allow him to go.

For the full injury report, look here.

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Running backs still sitting

Posted by Darren Urban on November 17, 2010 – 2:21 pm

The Cardinals’ injury list was a little longer than normal, topped by the two banged-up running backs — LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring) and Jason Wright (concussion) — sitting out.

Stephens-Howling dealt with a hamstring issue last season. He said he hoped to play Sunday but certainly wasn’t sounding sure of it. Wright, meanwhile, said he didn’t pass his first neurological exam Tuesday but will take one again tomorrow. Wright said he has had some minor concussions before but “this is new.”

“I was out the moment he hit me,” Wright said. “I remember (the hit). It was the last thing I saw. Then 10 minutes later on the bench, I was asking Beanie (Wells) why he wasn’t dressed. He was like, ‘Uh, Tom (Reed, head athletic trainer)?’ ”

— The “limited” included two newcomers. Cornerback Greg Toler now has a foot injury. Nose tackle Dan Williams has a calf issue. The other limited players all have been nursing their ailments: DT Darnell Dockett (shoulder), LB Clark Haggans (groin) and RB Beanie Wells (knee). Wells actually said he feels the best he has since before suffering his knee injury in the preseason.

— Mostly, the talk of the day was about Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who was the Cards’ offensive coordinator in 2007-08 and will be facing his former team for the first time. Not that he or coach Ken Whisenhunt — who coached together with Haley as lower-end assistants back with the Jets in 2000 to begin a friendship — are thinking about that too much. “There are a ton of people back there I care for,” Haley said. “But my focus is on the Chiefs.”

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Whiz: No staff changes coming

Posted by Darren Urban on November 15, 2010 – 11:34 am

One of the subjects many have asked about is changing the coaching staff now — relieving Bill Davis of defensive coordinator duties, or bringing in an offensive coordinator. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said those inquiries were “fair,” but aren’t going to happen. Not now.

“I really haven’t,” Whisenhunt said when asked if he has considered staff changes. “Our guys have been working very hard. They feel as bad as everyone. We have a competitive staff that have shown they can do a great job. I don’t believe in that, especially not in-season. We are going to continue to try and put our players in position to be successful.”

— Nothing new on the injury front. Waiting and seeing on LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring) and Jason Wright (concussion). Whiz did say holding Beanie out was a “let-him-get-over-the-hump thing” and finally get rid of his swelling, rather than a numbers issue with the roster. That seems to say Beanie should be back this week. And I emphasize should.

— They are going to be careful with Darnell Dockett and his bad shoulder. Once he gets his strength back, he’ll play again.

— Whisenhunt isn’t planning on any personnel changes right now.

— By the same token, he believes the game plan worked when it was executed right. He mentioned, for instance, there were times when the pass rush was supposed to come from the outside to contain Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and it instead went inside, giving Hasselbeck a chance to move outside and make a throw. He called the D’s play inside the red zone “symbolic” of what the defense could be.

— Whisenhunt said the staff had already been turning the heat up on practices and he didn’t think practicing hard/well was an issue. It’s getting it to work on Sundays.

I will have more later, after open locker room.

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