Enthusiasm for the defense

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2013 – 10:02 am

Levi Brown was talking about getting back on the field and what he might be able to learn about himself in shorts in the heat of summer. No pads helps, he said, because he can ease his injured arm back into work. But there are other challenges.

“Our defense is giving us tons of blitzes right now,” Brown said, shaking his head. “Things I don’t think I’ve seen.”

There has been so much talk about the Ray-Horton-To-Todd-Bowles transition and what that could mean for the defense. While the arrival of Bruce Arians — and new quarterback Carson Palmer — has shifted focus to what the offense will be able to do, the defense remains a unit burgeoning with potential and proven players. In a division where the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams all have created believers on that side of the ball, the Cardinals have done the same, like with ESPN analyst/former scout Matt Williamson:

(Williams is bullish on a lot of things the Cards have done, actually. This is an ESPN Insider link, but in a nutshell, Williamson gave them an A. “I love what Arizona has done this offseason.”)

Even with the Daryl Washington suspension and whatever else might be hanging over the linebackers head, you have enthusiasm over what could be from the defensive ends, a linebacker corps that (with Washington) will be stronger overall with the additions of Karlos Dansby, Jasper Brinkley and Kevin Minter, and a cornerbacks group that is better than last season and that’s even before any anticipated improvement of Patrick Peterson. Finding out what defensive end-turned-linebacker Matt Shaughnessy and Lorenzo Alexander can produce will be crucial, but they should help incumbents Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield at outside linebacker. Are there some unknowns at safety? Sure, but if Tyrann Mathieu can make some plays back there behind vets Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell, I think the Cards can survive — especially in an NFL world where safety play has become more about coverage than big hitting.

The Cardinals need to make strides on offense. That’s obvious. But their base in 2013 will need to come from the defensive production.

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In the first OTA, breaking up the team (and other notes)

Posted by Darren Urban on May 14, 2013 – 1:12 pm

The Cardinals began OTAs today and coach Bruce Arians tried something new with his 90-man roster: A dual practice. For a good chunk of the time on the field, the main first- and second-units worked on the front field, while the younger players — including almost every rookie — went to the second field with a mirror type of workout.

“We wanted to make sure we maximized the opportunities our rookies got, to get repetitions,” Arians said. “You can’t find a diamond in the rough if he’s standing on the sideline watching. You can find one if he’s out there working. That’s our goal. Get every single guy here an opportunity to make the ballclub.”

Arians said he’s never seen it done in his time in the NFL. Usually there aren’t enough players. “Our offensive tackles got a good workout,” Arians said. “There’s only four of them.” (That’s Nate Potter, Bobby Massie, Jamaal Johnson-Webb and Paul Fanaika today. Levi Brown was limited in his rehab and UDFA Joe Caprioglio isn’t here yet because Colorado State hasn’t finished up the spring semester.)

— Arians noted the full participation and thanked his players for the voluntary work. That included Daryl Washington (who has been here the whole time, not that it is new). Washington did address the media. Here is the story right here.

— Karlos Dansby was running with the first unit with Jasper Brinkley at inside linebacker. Washington was with Kevin Minter with the second unit. That was tough not to notice. We’ll see how it progresses as we go. Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho are working as the first-unit outside linebackers. Jerraud Powers continues to work first unit at cornerback with Patrick Peterson.

— Jonathan Cooper was running second-team left guard behind Chilo Rachal. All the other draftees — save for Ryan Swope, who was pulled up after LaRon Byrd had a neck spasm — were working in the second practice.

— It was weird seeing Dansby wearing No. 55. It was more weird seeing him in Miami Dolphin blue cleats. I’m sure that’ll be fixed soon. “I told him he could have my red shoes tomorrow,” Arians said. “He looked good. He looked spry.”

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What Dansby’s return means

Posted by Darren Urban on May 10, 2013 – 11:05 am

A few days before Karlos Dansby made his first appearance at University of Phoenix Stadium after leaving the Cardinals – this past season when the Miami Dolphins visited – the veteran linebacker was asked his opinion of the man the Cards had drafted to replace him: Daryl Washington. Dansby replied in classic Dansby fashion.

“He’s a dynamic player, what more can I say about him,” Dansby said. “He’s very athletic, very fast. He reminds me of myself. They did a great job of getting the guy to fill that void.”

It was that moment when there was a little Dansby-envy swirling for those of us listening who had covered Los when he was in Arizona. He was always energetic and always could give a good quote. (One of the all-time favorites was when I was doing a story on teammate Sean Morey agreeing to donate his brain to science right at the beginning of the concussion talks first exploded. I asked Karlos what he thought: “That’s huge, man.” That was always one of his go-to expressions. Trust me, you had to be there.)

The man could play some football too. The Cards never wanted to let him go — they thought they had an extension ironed out before the 2009 season but that fizzled when Dansby changed agents — and his price tag got too high. His price tag might’ve been too high again (there was a reason he wasn’t signed yet) but Dansby’s chance to return home where he still has a home was too important. “I told my agent to bring (the salary) down,” Dansby said to me this morning, motioning his hands down like he was doing a version of his old dirty bird celebration. Dansby couldn’t stop smiling. Regardless of what the contract is, he is happy.

— He doesn’t have a jersey number yet. He won’t get 58. That’s Daryl Washington’s.

— No, his return doesn’t mean Washington is on his way out. Actually, you have to think the Cards have some decent plans to play them together. That would make sense, and Los could be a rusher from the outside if needed. He is versatile.

— DC Todd Bowles knows Dansby, because Bowles was in Miami in 2010 when Dansby was there. Bowles understands what Dansby can do.

— Between the addition of Kevin Minter in the draft and Jasper Brinkley and Dansby, the linebacker corps looks pretty decent right now, when it was a huge question mark back in early March.

— Only eight players remain on the roster that played with Dansby the first time around: Darnell Dockett, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Leach, Reggie Walker, Rashad Johnson, Calais Campbell, Levi Brown and Lyle Sendlein.

— It’d be great if Dansby comes full circle and could end his career here, but let’s remember this is a one-year contract. Right now, he’s in the same boat as guys like Rashard Mendenhall, Antoine Cason and Matt Shaughnessy. They all want to be getting paid more money, and are counting on good years to improve their stock and earn them that kind of contract. Dansby will be trying to do the same. We’ll see if Dansby-the-sequel has a long run in Arizona the second time around.

— That said, did I mention he was pretty happy?

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Delving into the first Arians minicamp

Posted by Darren Urban on April 23, 2013 – 4:42 pm

The Cardinals are done with the first day of their three-day voluntary minicamp. The tempo for the almost two-hour work in the afternoon was crisp. Coach Bruce Arians said there were fewer mistakes than might have been anticipated. The only player not there was Larry Fitzgerald, but Arians knew that he wouldn’t be and said Fitz would be back on Wednesday. A couple other tidbits:

— T Levi Brown and LB O’Brien Schofield weren’t taking part as they continue their rehab from 2012 injuries. Arians said there was no reason to push it. Schofield should be back soon. Arians just wants to make sure Brown is available by the Fall. Arians said he might consider putting Nate Potter at guard at some point, but there is plenty of time to figure that out. Arians said a player should be able to play either guard or tackle on the same side.

— QB Carson Palmer said 75 percent of the offense has been introduced to the players, although there is a long way to go to make it work in practice. This is the teaching/learning phase, clearly, although the pace of the workout was noticeably quick.

— With Schofield out (and for all we know, even if Schofield was available) it was free agent linebacker Lorenzo Alexander lining up on the outside with Sam Acho. Daryl Washington and Jasper Brinkley were the inside linebackers. The first string secondary was Jerraud Powers with Patrick Peterson at cornerback and Rashad Johnson and Yeremiah Bell at safety.

— Washington obviously won’t be able to play the first four games because of his suspension. Arians said it was too early to know who will be the starter in Washington’s absence. “We will get Daryl ready to start just like I did with Ben Roethlisberger (before his suspension in 2010) and whoever was taking his place in September was more than ready to,” Arians said.

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Search for depth in free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on April 15, 2013 – 5:18 pm

Each free agent signing brings with it immediate reaction, and that’s understandable. But the proper context isn’t always immediately there for the player and what will turn out to be his eventual role (see Stanton, Drew.) And even at the time, a signee was always seen as a reserve, and that is by design from General Manager Steve Keim.

“We not only got some starters but some key role players, guys who can come in and play 15 to 20 snaps, help keep fresh legs, and in a 60-minute game, to me, it’s extremely important to have quality depth,” Keim said.

He particularly noted the defensive line, to help with guys like nose tackle Dan Williams or defensive tackle Darnell Dockett if they get gassed. Keim likes the idea of bringing in Matt Shaughnessy and Frostee Rucker without having much of a dropoff. Looking at the veteran free agents the team has signed there definitely seems to be a mix:

— RB Rashard Mendenhall, starter

— QB Drew Stanton, reserve

— S Yeremiah Bell, TBD

— CB Jerraud Powers, TBD

— LB Lorenzo Alexander, TBD

— LB Jasper Brinkley, starter

— CB Antoine Cason, TBD

— DE Matt Shaughnessy, reserve

— DE Frostee Rucker, reserve

— S Jonathan Amaya, reserve

— G Chilo Rachal, reserve

Obviously either Powers or Cason will be a backup/nickel guy, because Patrick Peterson will be in there. I’d guess Alexander will be a reserve but he’ll get snaps on defense. Bell could end up as a backup if a high-end safety is drafted, but he’s slated to start for now and Rachal’s spot could be impacted with the draft too depending on how the offensive line ends up shaking out.

Ultimately, not every name signed in free agency draws the “Wow” response, nor is it intended to. That famous board Keim built for free agency had more than star(ter) power in mind.

Two.ShaugnessyUSE


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Odds and ends as Cards maneuver free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on March 14, 2013 – 9:05 pm

A few kibbles and bits while we all wait for the Kevin Kolb decision to come down (and if you want to have a chuckle and are on Twitter, check out the hashtag #whilewaiting4jake, which Rams fans have come up with some pretty funny quips as they wonder why they haven’t heard about Jake Long signing there yet.)

— Some kind of Kolb decision will have to come by 1 p.m. Friday, which is 4 p.m. at the league office in New York and close of business until Monday. Kolb’s $2 million bonus is due over the weekend, which is why it has to happen now. As I’ve mentioned before, the arrival of Drew Stanton pointed to the release of Kolb. The roster numbers — figuring Hoyer, Stanton and a draft pick, not to mention either Lindley or Skelton, if not both — don’t work as much as Kolb’s $9 million salary. With so much salary cap space that can be saved (at least $7.5 million and as much as $11.5 million if Kolb is designated a “June 1” cut) that’s the reality.

— The addition of inside linebacker Jasper Brinkley seems to fit perfectly with the Cardinals’ 3-4 scheme. He played well in Minnesota but the Cards should be able to drop him right next Daryl Washington. The book on Brinkley is that he is a two-down linebacker, but with Washington out there and assuming the Cards collect more defensive backs, Brinkley won’t be needed on passing downs anyway.

— Adrian Wilson is making his first free agent visit to the Patriots. I won’t be surprised if that’s where he lands. The Patriots have done a similar move in the past, in 2003 with Rodney Harrison. That worked out pretty good for New England. If anyone would know how to get the best out of Wilson 12 years in, it’d be Bill Belichick.

— Didn’t hear one thing about Josh Cribbs today. Because I know someone will want to ask.

— Kerry Rhodes, released Wednesday, released a statement Thursday saying goodbye. “Playing with the Cardinals has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I want to thank my coaches, teammates and Arizona fans everywhere for making the last three years truly remarkable. Change is always exciting and I’m optimistic about what the future holds. Wherever I go or whatever I do, I look forward to working hard and giving 110%, as always.”

— The Cardinals hosted free agent cornerback Antoine Cason Thursday and reportedly will host defensive end Matt Shaughnessy of the Raiders tomorrow. I don’t think the Cards are done in free agency yet. Shaughnessy is in demand.


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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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