QBs make a good impression at the podium

Posted by Darren Urban on March 2, 2018 – 3:25 pm

There are almost always “important” media interview sessions here at the Scouting combine. Most of the time it has to do with players with potential red flags. Any position can be represented — think Vontaze Burfict, Manti Te’o or even Tyrann Mathieu — but many times, it has to do with the quarterback. That’s the position that leads most often, and the one the gets the most scrutiny. Ryan Mallett was grilled in Indy, as was Cam Newton. Johnny Manziel too.

I remember back in 2006, not knowing much about a Vanderbilt quarterback who was gaining steam as a prospect, and after his session, thinking if I was the Cardinals I’d be wary. Jay Cutler could play, but he definitely gave off a lousy vibe.

Friday, the quarterbacks all talked. All the top guys have some kind of scrutiny. But after getting a chance to hear all of them, all left good impressions, albeit in different ways. Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson definitely showed the most personality, with Mayfield coming strong with his confidence he will be the best QB and emphasizing he will be honest with whatever missteps he might have made. “I want teams to know what they are getting,” he said.

Jackson could only chuckle at the idea he might be asked to move to receiver. “Man, I thought I did pretty good at quarterback,” he said with a smile. (He did.) He said no teams have talked to him about a position switch but it doesn’t matter, because he isn’t going anywhere. The other top guys — Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen — were solid themselves. Nothing flashy, but they didn’t come across poorly.

Of course, it’s the interview process with the teams behind closed doors that will ultimately mean more. But teams do pay attention to how these players handle their business in front of the cameras. That box has been checked.

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Friday before the 49ers, humble edition

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2015 – 4:30 pm

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was blunt talking about rookie running back David Johnson.

“He could be special,” Goodwin said. “Very special.”

That’s an easy conclusion to reach after three touchdowns on just nine NFL touches, including a 55-yard touchdown reception and a 108-yard kickoff return. One thing coaches and teammates love about him isn’t his talent – although, yes, they love his talent – but his ability to be humble. Of course, he does have to absorb some grief.

“I don’t believe no one in this locker room is really reading their press clippings,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Well, maybe David. David is probably reading his.” Mathieu chuckled. “I’d be reading them too.”

Johnson chuckled himself when he heard Mathieu’s comments. “It was a little harder this week,” Johnson said, “but the coaches made sure I stayed grounded, and the players around me reminded me it’s a long season.”

It is going to be a long season. That’s why almost everyone around the Cardinals followed Bruce Arians’ lead this week in brushing off the 2-0 start. Playing the 49ers Sunday is both a step up in opponent and a foray into the NFC West, and the Cards understand both cannot be underestimated.

— No word on the offensive line as of yet. The fact Mike Iupati still has not been able to practice fully any one day has to raise a red flag, but we’ll see if he’s able to go against his former team Sunday. As for right tackle, Arians said Bobby Massie is better at pass protection and Earl Watford is better in run blocking. He’s also noted Watford has given up too many quarterback hits. The Cards like to the throw the ball. We’ll see if that impacts the decision.

— The 49ers are a grind-it-out team. That makes sense because a) they have a talented running back in Carlos Hyde and b) quarterback Colin Kaepernick, while he has made strides as a passer, still isn’t someone you’ll lean on the majority of the time.

Then there is Kaepernick’s ability to run himself, which will force the Cardinals to be on top of things while he scrambles around back there.

“From an awareness standpoint, I think our guys have to know that any down, any distance, he could tuck the ball and run with it,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.

— Goodwin, talking about the Bears game Thursday: “Last week there were a lot of things I didn’t agree with in terms of hitting the quarterback, a couple of shots he took. (Carson Palmer) is going to get hit. We just have to minimize it.”

Friday, Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee was fined $17,363 for his low hit on Palmer on the flea-flicker touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. McPhee was flagged for a personal foul on the play.

Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson was also fined $17,363 for his hit to the helmet of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Johnson did not draw a flag on the play.

— Don’t forget Adrian Wilson will be inducted into the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game. What was behind Wilson growing into one of the best players in franchise history? Take a look back at my “Making of A-Dub” piece from 2010.

— Bettcher said the defensive line has a “great rotation” right now, and that includes some snaps for Calais Campbell at nose tackle. In reality, the Cards don’t really use a true nose tackle – Xavier Williams has been inactive, and starter Rodney Gunter (whom Bettcher said is doing well) is more like a Campbell. Again, the Cards were going for versatile on the line this season.

— Campbell makes it on Sports Science.

— Will Larry Fitzgerald go off again this week? Who knows? Arians is always coming up with different things. Even Fitz knows things can change.

“Coach Arians is like a mad scientist,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s always finding ways to get guys involved, to create mismatches for his playmakers.”

— Anquan Boldin gets another chance at his former team. He’s said in the past playing the Cardinals is just another game, but frankly, I don’t believe him. Q is too intense along those lines to have it be otherwise.

“He’s a physical receiver,” Mathieu said. “He’s 100 percent for 4 quarters. I’ll be matched up with him so I have to bring my big boy pads.”


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Rough out there for a QB

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2012 – 10:20 am

When Ken Whisenhunt first named John Skelton his starting quarterback to begin the season, he noted that Kevin Kolb would stay ready, because the way the NFL goes, the Cardinals would need both their quarterbacks. That, of course, turned out to be true, with Kolb subbing for an injured Skelton in the very first game and then playing well enough to hold down the starting role until getting hurt himself when his ribs detached from his sternum on a hit against Buffalo.

Kolb had promised himself he was going to try and play through any injury after being sidelined so much last season. This time around he just couldn’t. This weekend, with the Cards coincidentally on a bye, the NFL showed exactly how difficult it can be to stay healthy as a quarterback in this league.

Three starters — the Eagles’ Michael Vick, the Bears’ Jay Cutler and the 49ers’ Alex Smith — had to leave their respective games because of concussions (which, of course, Kolb had to do last season.) The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, the king of playing through any and all injuries it seems, had to leave Monday night’s game after hurting his throwing shoulder. As of this moment, it’s being called a sprain but no one really knows how much time it could cost him. As for the concussed QBs, well, Kolb missed a lot of time because of his and at the very least, it’ll be a little surprising if the trio can return the very next week, given the concussion concern around the league these days.

Bottom line (even as obvious as it is)? That backup QB is always just a play away, and the odds are good he’s going to be forced into some playing time at some point. This isn’t about fragility. It’s about fast, 275-pound bodies colliding with or twisting oddly the guy who has the ball in his hands more than anyone.

As for Kolb, he continues to throw it around at practice (like Monday, below) although his progress keeps his status in a kind of limbo. He still doesn’t sound like his return is around the corner.

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The Cutler controversy

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2011 – 4:01 pm

I can’t lie – I was one of those who saw Jay Cutler on the sideline Sunday and had LaDainian-Tomlinson-versus-the-Patriots flash through my mind. Ultimately, I didn’t think too much about it, though, because like the Tomlinson situation, it was impossible to know whether the player really had a choice in the matter.

But it certainly stokes the debate about this game, doesn’t it? It definitely made me think of the situation from a lot of different angles.

— Was I surprised there were a bunch of players who basically tweeted out (or said on TV) that Cutler should have kept playing? Maybe a little. Know this: Such raised eyebrows happen inside locker rooms from time to time. It’s just that usually, no one says anything publicly. This time it was different, from Maurice Jones-Drew to Darnell Dockett to a handful of other players, past and present. (Dockett tweeted that he’d want Cutler to wait for he and his teammates to clear out of the locker room before showing up given the situation, and then later said he was just trying to say “I would of (sic) went back in the game!”)

— Generally, players aren’t thrilled when they are criticized by the media. Many deal with it. They know it’s part of the deal. But I couldn’t help but wonder, had the roles been reversed, how they would have handled someone saying the same thing about them. I figure they’d probably say that’s the whole point – the same thing wouldn’t have happened to them. But that makes for an intriguing perspective.

— Many people have made the point Cutler – in this circumstance – may be a victim of his own personality. Over the years, he hasn’t exactly endeared himself to media, fans or players. Does that make him a bad person? I have no idea. But perception means a lot. And I agree that who Cutler is (or who he is believed to be) fed into the criticism. If it was Kurt Warner to which this happened, no way it blows up like this.

— It’s also fascinating to break down what this is about (besides the injury, of course). Is it about toughness? Is it about love of the game? Can you separate the two?

— I’m trying to think of the most memorable games I’ve seen (in person) of players dealing with a significant injury. I remember Donovan McNabb throwing four TD passes against the Cards in 2002 on what was later discovered to be a broken ankle suffered the third play of the game.

— The thing is, I don’t think it mattered. I think the Bears lose anyway. I think the last Chicago TD drive came in part because the Packers’ defense lost a little focus up 14 points against the third-string QB. I could be off base, but if Cutler had stayed in, I think the Packers stay after him.

Regardless, it’s certainly been the most discussed topic in the NFL today.

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Bears aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 29, 2010 – 2:40 am

Life on the charter flight. I write this version of the Aftermath well after midnight Arizona time, sitting in the back of the plane as flight attendants Billi and Candice serve dinner and fullback Reagan Maui’a sits across from me, playing his ukulele at 30,000 feet.

But we must go on to the game. That’s what you’re here for.

— I don’t know exactly what Ken Whisenhunt was aiming for when he decided to start Derek Anderson this week over Matt Leinart, but whatever his intention, it worked. Both played well, and frankly, I don’t envy Whisenhunt’s decision going forward. Nothing was made easier Saturday night in the Chicago win, although Whiz was clearly feeling better about life than in the Tennessee game.

“I take my hat off to (the QBs),” running back Tim Hightower said. “A lot of people they can say whatever they want to about Matt, but he showed a lot. D.A., he played well, and when he had opportunities, he capitalized. But Matt came in and did his thing and he handled himself well.”

It was interesting that twice, Whisenhunt noted the quarterback choice will come down to chemistry with the team and how the QB handles things when he is in the fray – and that it won’t necessarily be about stats. Given that Leinart has completed 19-of-23 preseason passes and not turned it over, Whiz’s comments seem to pump the brakes on the idea Leinart could be the favorite. One of the issues swirling around Leinart for a while has been whether he is able to inspire the team.

“I don’t know what the decision will be made on,” Leinart said, smiling. “I feel like I have a great relationship with my guys, my team for four, five years now. Like I said, I can only control what I control, and that’s playing good football and being a leader. I have a great relationship with all my teammates and I don’t think it should be based on that because I feel like I am doing a good job in that department.”

— Arguably, the guy with the biggest stake in the quarterback position is Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. His thoughts on the QB controversy/competition? Fitz told this to ace beat man Kent Somers: “I’m just a hired hand, man. I’m just a pawn on the chess board.”

Something tells me Fitz has his opinions.

— Hightower ran the ball well (62 yards on eight carries). Beanie Wells didn’t have the greatest night. He gained 14 yards on eight carries, dropped a pass and, most crucial, fumbled the ball late in the second quarter inside the Bears’ 10-yard line when it looked like the Cards were going to drive for a TD. Replays seemed to show Beanie might have been down a split-second before losing control, but it wasn’t overturned, and Whisenhunt wasn’t happy considering Beanie’s fumbling issues as a rookie.

“That is something with Beanie we have made progress with and he obviously was criticized for not paying more attention to the ball there,” Whisenhunt said.

— Deuce Lutui logged significant time with the starting offensive line at right guard, although Reggie Wells started. Given all the talk about Anderson, Greg Toler and Daryl Washington moving into the starting lineup, you wonder if Deuce is next.

— All four guys who can play nose tackle – Bryan Robinson, Gabe Watson, Alan Branch and Dan Williams – logged time there by early in the second quarter. It’s beginning to look like the Cards could very well keep them all, and seven defensive linemen overall (Campbell, Dockett, Iwebema).

— Speaking of the defensive front, they again played well and sparked the overall good defensive night (four sacks and two picks of QB Jay Cutler and Mike Martz’s latest attempt to revive the Greatest Show on Turf, except on grass).

— I’m not sure Stephen Williams has had a bad day since training camp started. Anderson played well, but he owes a little something to the rookie receiver for coming up big in traffic.

— Awesome play to score your touchdown, Steve Breaston (pictured below). Oh, don’t ever leap like that in a preseason game again. Your legs looked like they were going to snap as you went up and over the goal line.

— QB Max Hall looked sharp at the end. And I’m beginning to think Max Komar will be the second rookie receiver to stick around, if they decide to keep six receivers. All he does is make plays. (UPDATE: Oops. Forgot Andre Roberts is a rookie. He will make it too).

— Offensive linemen David Moosman and Casey Knips haven’t gotten into a game yet. That doesn’t bode well with a cut of five coming Monday. And speaking of not boding well, the fact tight end Dominique Byrd didn’t play Saturday usually isn’t a good sign either.

Wow, I wrote a lot there. Might have to take Sunday off.

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Bears aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 8, 2009 – 10:25 pm

I’m generally not a superstitious person. Jinxes don’t matter to me, and usually it’s tough to string one happening as foretelling another. But as I gathered my things outside of the meal room Sunday morning with my back to the entrance, I felt someone come up from behind and drop something in my pocket. By the time I looked behind me, Larry Fitzgerald was already several steps beyond me, apparently never breaking stride. I reached in to my pocket and found the three quarters and a penny Fitz, for some reason, decided to leave with me.

Again, it was just a random act. But I have to admit it left me with a sense of confidence for that day’s game, both for Fitz’s play and the outcome overall. Obviously, by the end of the afternoon, it became an important 76 cents, at least in my brain.

Every question the Cardinals have been asking themselves (or had barked to them by outside sources) was answered in the 41-21 win. Kurt Warner’s rebound game? Check, with emphasis, thanks to five TD passes. A running game? Check. 31 rush attempts, 149 yards in 28 attempts between Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, with a tricky fake-end-around-to-a-delayed-end-around picking up 25 yards on the ground too. Defensively, the Cards did enough, sacking Jay Cutler four times and overcoming a bumpy early fourth quarter.

As for specific impressions:

— The offensive line has taken its share of hits this season so the props start with that unit. The protection was very good and when you run for 182 yards (and average 5.9 yards a carry overall), that’s a game that lands on the group’s permanent highlight tape.

— I’m checking on the last time the Cards had two different tight ends with touchdowns in the same game, but to see Warner hit both Anthony Becht and Ben Patrick for scores was important. Neither was the initial target – Warner found both after his first reads weren’t there – but they made the plays. It’s going to be difficult for Stephen Spach to get back on the field, methinks.

— The Cards enjoyed the win. But the message even in the postgame locker room – whether it was on their own or sparked by Whisenhunt’s longer-than-usual postgame speech to the team – was that it was time to go home and win against the Seahawks. “If we can play with the same intensity that we play on the road, we’ll be a tough team to deal with,” Fitzgerald said. “But now we have to go home and protect the nest.”

— It was very obvious in the locker room afterward Anquan Boldin was ticked off for being inactive and told reporters he wasn’t happy he wasn’t given the heads-up before it went down. I’ll admit I thought, watching him in warm-ups, Boldin would play. But with a 20-point win, Whisenhunt made the right call, and now, it’s hard to believe he won’t be in good shape to go against Seattle next weekend. I’d expect Q to be angry but I’m guessing Whisenhunt expected it too. He wasn’t going to sit unless someone made him. It’s not in Q’s DNA.

I can understand his frustration though. In the six games Boldin has missed since the beginning of last season, the Cards have won five of the games. Fitzgerald has averaged six receptions for 108 yards in those games, scoring nine touchdowns.

— I thought for sure Antrel Rolle had come up with a shoulda-downed-it-oh-wait-he’s-gonna-score-a-TD-and-be-ESPN’s-top-highlight return on the blocked field goal. The man is amazing when he gets a little bit of space to work with. He should have had an interception late that he would have returned for a score too. Not sure how he dropped it.

— I find it tough to believe Deuce Lutui had nothing to do with the reason Tommie Harris decided to slug him, but Harris has to keep his cool.

— Not the best day for Adrian Wilson, who was trying to cover Bears tight end Greg Olsen on all three touchdown catches. But what’s the cliché? It’s always easier to correct mistakes after a win.

— Fitz moves up: Fitzgerald now has 482 career receptions, passing Jackie Smith (480) for fifth in franchise history right behind Frank Sanders (493). His 100-yard game was his 22nd, three behind Boldin for most all-time in franchise history. And his 6,607 receiving yards sixth all-time, passing Sanders Sunday and leving him behind Mel Gray’s 6,644.

— On the very first TD pass to Fitz, Hightower did a great job on the blitz pickup. And that’s why Hightower still gets all those snaps, although Beanie did get a few more pass plays Sunday. Oh, and he delivered another great stiff arm too – kind of like the Cards did, metaphorically, to the Bears. Right? 


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