Arians: About jobs right now, not chemistry

Posted by Darren Urban on July 29, 2013 – 5:46 pm

Here’s one way to look at it, and a good one, from coach Bruce Arians when talking about gaining team chemistry in training camp: “This is not a time for chemistry. My philosophy is, we’re not the Cardinals yet. Now we are 90 guys trying to get a job. We’ll become the Cardinals when 53 of them are picked. Then we will be a team.”

Along those lines, since we are talking about guys winning jobs, here are some observations a few days into camp that could play into that:

— One cornerback who has made a lot of plays is Javier Arenas. It could turn into a nice pickup given the price to get Arenas — FB Anthony Sherman — was going to be released anyway. Arenas broke up a bomb to Patrick Peterson yesterday and fought Larry Fitzgerald into one incompletion today. He’s not perfect, of course, but given all the other cornerbacks, he’s just going to make cutdown harder. The fact he could be the kickoff return man also plays into his favor.

— I think CB Jerraud Powers has made some plays too.

— Michael Floyd has looked good. Not that it’s a surprise. It’s a continuation of what he did this summer.

— Bruce Arians noted that Paul Fanaika, the Arizona State product who signed as a tackle, has done well in transition to guard. Lo and behold, he’s second-string right guard, which means he’s starting while Daryn Colledge is sidelined with his leg injury.

— That also means fourth-round pick Earl Watford is pretty far down the depth chart right now. Watford looks the part but he’s raw. He’s got work to do and it will be interesting to see how he does in preseason games.

— Didn’t see tight end Jeff King, who sat out Sunday’s practice, at Monday’s afternoon practice. Not sure what it is. Maybe it is related to the knee issue he was rehabbing from this offseason. Alex Gottlieb is already nursing a sore hamstring. And then Kory Sperry left the field early in Monday’s work. Newly acquired Mickey Shuler was there but he had arrived so close to practice he wasn’t even wearing Cardinals gear yet, much less practicing. The Cards are thin at the spot right now. Rookie D.C. Jefferson got a ton of reps (along with Rob Housler and Jim Dray.)

— The defensive coaches continue to mix-n-match a lot of the lineups. One nickel package had four linemen, although John Abraham was on the right side standing up, with Calais Campbell at RDE/RDT (depending on if you’re counting Abraham as a linebacker or end), Frostee Rucker as DT/NT and Matt Shaughnessy as LDE. Reggie Walker and Karlos Dansby were the linebackers (although Walker was in for Jasper Brinkley, sidelined with a sore knee).

— The first-string base defense continues to include Campbell, Dan Williams, Dockett up front; Alexander, Dansby, Brinkley, Acho at linebacker; Powers and Peterson at cornerback and Johnson and Bell at safety. Tyrann Mathieu continues to get lots of reps, not only at safety but nickel cover corner too.

— Running back talk is always going to start with Mendenhall and Ryan Williams while Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington have impressed Arians too. But to me, Alfonso Smith is going to make it very hard to cut him loose. The guy competes and he’s looked good when he’s gotten chances. He may again run into a numbers game, but Smith has made an impression.

— Speaking of making an impression, the defensive linemen tend to do that when they hit the sled:

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One year at a time

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2013 – 9:28 am

Eric Winston, a player who when he was first released was expected to command a healthy contract for multiple years, signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals. It was another impressive step for GM Steve Keim, who has managed to corral quite a few players in one-year deals, providing flexibility going forward and incentive to those players to try and earn an extension.

It also has created quite a lengthy list of players that, as of now, are set to become unrestricted free agents after the season:

— S Jonathan Amaya

— CB Javier Arenas

— S Yeremiah Bell

— CB Antoine Cason

— LB Karlos Dansby

— TE Jim Dray

— K Jay Feely

— TE Jeff King

— RB Rashard Mendenhall

— G Chilo Rachal

— WR Andre Roberts

— DE Frostee Rucker

— DE/LB Matt Shaughnessy

— TE Kory Sperry

— S Curtis Taylor

— LB Reggie Walker

— T Eric Winston

— P Dave Zastudil

Obviously, not every name on that list is someone that the Cards are going to want to keep around long-term. Others will have to earn that right. It also doesn’t include other situations, like the inevitable Patrick Peterson extension that is assumed to be coming at some point after the season. The Cardinals definitely have a plan, however. Flexibility is key for Keim, who is trying to rebuild the roster.

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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 19, 2013 – 10:58 am

Welcome to the second installment of For What It’s Worth, where I make guesstimates over who will be starting come the opener Sept. 8 in St. Louis – this time, on the offensive side of the ball – and my only fear is someone will dredge this up in a little less than three months to tell me I don’t know what I am talking about. The Cards’ offense is in somewhat of a weird situation. The unit struggled so much last season that the bar has been set pretty low in order to improve. Yet with Carson Palmer coming in at quarterback and Bruce Arians taking over as coach (not to mention Tom Moore as a top offensive assistant) expectations seem pretty high.

That said, and with time off calling me, here is my lineup for that day in the Edward Jones Dome. We’re going with a two-WR, two-TE set, but there will be plenty of three-WR looks I’d guess:

QB – Carson Palmer. Arians named him starter from jump. Made sense. Had some bumpy times in the offseason work, but he’s been very straight-forward about the process and didn’t seem surprised. You have to like the idea he and Fitz are spearheading workouts in San Diego and/or Minnesota before camp. The offense probably needs it.

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. I think I am willing to wager Fitz gets back to his lofty stats this season. Just a guess.

WR – Michael Floyd. In three-receiver sets Andre Roberts will get plenty of work. But Floyd has impressed coaches (and bystanders like myself) with his efforts this offseason. He seems primed for a leap in Year Two. Can he challenge Fitz? If the Cards can grind out more first downs, I can see Floyd having a big year.

TE – Rob Housler. Arians likes his pass-catching ability. We’ll see, in camp, how far his blocking has come.

LT – Levi Brown. Arians has spent so much time talking Brown up this offseason I don’t see any way Levi isn’t starting. He’ll be playing the left side, and we will find out if his strong finish to 2011 was a mirage or not.

LG – Jonathan Cooper. The only question with Cooper isn’t if he starts but when he signs his contract (and with the front office getting in their vacation, Cooper’s deal will probably be much closer to training camp. That said, it’s nothing to worry about. He’ll be done in time.)

C – Lyle Sendlein. The Cardinals haven’t really done much to create competition at the spot. That seems like a good sign for Sendlein, who remains a steadying influence in the locker room and a quality captain.

RG – Daryn Colledge. Colledge had to flip sides, but he’ll figure it out. He’s getting paid big money and that makes every offseason a little more dicey in a league that’s always looking at that stuff. But Colledge is a good fit right now, especially with rookie Earl Watford still raw in his development.

RT – Bobby Massie. Massie was playing backup left tackle the last week of minicamp, and Nate Potter was running as the No. 1 right tackle. But Arians insisted he will continue to move around guys to have them learn many positions, and that was one example. I still think Massie is the starter come Week 1. He played too well down the stretch last year. Plus, Potter – who also might get work at guard – could be getting groomed for the ultimate jack-of-all-trades offensive line spot as a reserve. It’s necessary after Adam Snyder was released.

TE – Jeff King. It’s hard to get a good handle on this one since King was out or limited almost all of the offseason work. Jim Dray got a lot of first-unit reps too. I still think when all is said and done it will be King opening day, but I think it’s no lock. Is there any chance rookie D.C. Jefferson could sneak his way in? That’s a long shot, but maybe hitting in training camp changes some minds. I wouldn’t be stunned to see them add a veteran tight end in camp.

RB – Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall had his best seasons under Arians in Pittsburgh. Ryan Williams remains a wild card. Stepfan Taylor is probably too far behind, at least at first. Mendenhall is still pretty young in running back’s terms, he’s motivated with a one-year deal and he insists he’s totally healthy. A good combination.


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Tight end options

Posted by Darren Urban on May 24, 2013 – 3:33 pm

A recent ESPN Insider article breaking down the holes remaining for each NFC West team marked tight end as the spot in which the Cards have a question mark. Some of that — much of that — has to do with the scheme of new coach Bruce Arians and the fact he likes to use two tight ends. Arians has made that abundantly clear.

The main focus will be the play of Rob Housler, in many ways. Arians has said, as Steelers OC, he considered Housler as a big wide receiver prospect when he was coming out for the draft. Does that color his perspective for Housler as tight end? Housler definitely has potential skills as a seam threat. He remains a work-in-progress as a blocker. This is a big year for him. Veteran Jeff King remains in the final year of his contract. He’s coming off recent knee surgery and hasn’t been practicing but the hope is he will be back soon (Veterans have next week off completely, and the final four OTAs take place the first week of June, when King could return.) Jim Dray played a little fullback last season when Anthony Sherman was hurt, has been good on special teams and has turned into a solid seventh-round pick from 2010. Those are your top three tight ends right now.

The Cards drafted D.C. Jefferson in the seventh round this year, and he certainly looks the part, especially of a pass catcher. But the former quarterback — he didn’t become a tight end until getting to Rutgers — is definitely raw at this point. And it’s tough to figure out if he can block yet given that the Cards aren’t in pads and in shorts. They also have holdover Kory Sperry, who was on the roster part of last season, and recent inexperienced signees Alex Gottlieb and Kyle Auffray.

There are a few tight ends still out there, but probably not an upgrade. Dallas Clark? The Colts let him walk away last year as Arians was coming in as offensive coordinator. Kellen Winslow? Injuries have robbed him of what he provided. Chris Cooley, again, another older player who may not have much left. It’s not like the Cards aren’t doing their due diligence on these guys and if they felt bringing someone in would be worth it, they would — could you doubt that after all the changes this offseason?

That said, I could see them adding someone later, after they get an offseason to sort out what they have.


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Versatility and Sherman’s fullback future

Posted by Darren Urban on March 26, 2013 – 4:30 pm

My question was about philosophy on tight ends, but the first response was about fullbacks, and that made everyone take notice.

“I’m not a fullback guy. I never have been,” Bruce Arians said, and anyone who knew the Cardinals immediately thought of Anthony Sherman. Sherman was the Cards’ fullback the past two years, a piece in Ken Whisenhunt’s offense as a blocker, really, and also a key guy on special teams. Sherman was good enough on teams to be named a captain, and that alone might provide hope for Sherman going forward, even after Arians’ blunt analysis.

This doesn’t have anything to do with Anthony Sherman, really, but how Arians likes to use his tight ends — as potential decoys.

“I want tight ends who are multiple,” Arians said. “If you are a defensive coordinator and I send a fullback in and take out a tight end, I will get your best call for that. If I have two tight ends (in the game), and you don’t know if one will play fullback or one could split out wide, you’re going to give me a down-and-distance (defensive) call. You don’t have a specific call. The more flexible tight ends can be, threats at receiver or dual in-line backfield blockers, the more pressure you put on the defense.”

Arians went on to say Rob Housler was a player who, when Arians was with the Steelers, Arians thought about drafting and making a big wide receiver. Arians sees him as a mismatch for defenses, while Jeff King and Jim Dray (assuming a tight end isn’t drafted) will do the “dirty work.”

Where does that leave Sherman? He played 236 offensive snaps a year ago in 13 games. That would probably dry up. He also played 156 snaps on special teams, and that’s a role he can excel within. Sherman had no rushing attempts all season and only five catches. As Sando noted, Arians did work with a fullback last year, but that guy was considered more of a big running back in Arians’ eyes. Whether Sherman can be the same for the Cardinals — and Arians — is yet to be seen.


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Potter inactive, Batiste to start vs 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2012 – 12:57 pm

Left tackle Nate Potter is inactive today because of his sprained ankle, putting D’Anthony Batiste back in the lineup for the first time since Potter replaced him during the Green Bay game prior to the bye week Nov. 4. That will make for an interesting matchup when he goes against 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks). Fullback Anthony Sherman (knee) is also inactive, meaning tight end Jim Dray will fill in for the fullback duties.

Rookie guard Senio Kelemete is active for the first time this season, too.

Also inactive for the Cards today are:

— QB John Skelton

— WR LaRon Byrd (knee)

— G Mike Gibson (calf)

— WR Early Doucet (concussion)

— DE Ronald Talley (ankle)

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Heap still sitting, Skelton to back up Kolb

Posted by Darren Urban on October 14, 2012 – 11:30 am

Tight end Todd Heap remains sidelined today with his bad knee, while quarterback John Skelton is active today for the first time since hurting his ankle and will back up starter Kevin Kolb. The Cards do have tight end Jim Dray back to help at tight end.

Injuries are a big reason for a chunk of inactives today. Linebacker Reggie Walker (concussion), fullback Anthony Sherman (knee) and cornerbacks Michael Adams and Greg Toler (both hamstrings) are all out. Also sitting out is QB Ryan Lindley — natural with Skelton back — and guard Senio Kelemete.

That means wide receiver LaRon Byrd will be active for the first time in his NFL career. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is active.

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Time for the Hyphen

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2012 – 12:52 pm

Larry Fitzgerald has always liked LaRod Stephens-Howling. They both went to Pitt, so it’s hard not to have a bond. The wide receiver has no problem talking about the Hyphen’s strengths, which include versatility — and size.

“He’s so small, when he comes through the line you don’t see him until he’s too close, and then when he’s that close, there’s no way you can tackle him in a phone booth,” Fitzgerald said. “When he’s in space, he creates so many mismatches for us. He’s got big-play capabilities.”

Stephens-Howling, assuming his health holds up, will be the running back under the spotlight Sunday when the Cards play the Bills. There will be work for William Powell and even Alfonso Smith, but the Cards need their Hyphen to make some things happen like the last time he started. That was in the season finale against Seattle last year — the Cards sat Beanie — and Stephens-Howling had a good game. Coach Ken Whisenhunt is hoping for a repeat.

“The last time I saw LaRod as a starter he went for 92 yards against a good Seattle defense,” Whisenhunt said. “I’m hopeful he can get those extra eight yards this week.”

That would be a huge deal for the Cards. The top individual game a running back has had this season was Ryan Williams’ 83-yard effort against the Eagles. In the end, Fitz said, the Hyphen’s pedigree will shine (OK, maybe Fitz smiled a little bit as he delivered the following quote):

“He’s a Pitt guy,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s capable of doing whatever. He can play quarterback, he can play defensive tackle, whatever we need him to do. When you go to Pitt, good things happen for you.”

— Whisenhunt said tight ends Todd Heap and Jim Dray are healthy enough to give him options at the position. “Thank goodness.”

“When you look at the roster when you go to the 53, people say, ‘Why do you keep four tight ends?'” Whisenhunt said. “It’s because we’ve been through this before. It seems like it never fails you are going to be stuck with two or one-and-a-half. We’ve been that way, and I think we’re finally past that point for right now.”

The full injury report is due out in a bit.

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Dockett in, Heap and Hyphen out

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2012 – 3:59 pm

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is indeed active for tonight’s game, but running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hip) and tight end Todd Heap (knee) remain out. That means William Powell and Rob Housler, respectively, will still play big roles. But having Dockett back should give the defense — coming off an uneven performance against the Dolphins — a boost.

John Skelton (ankle) will also remain inactive for the Rams. Ryan Lindley is still Kevin Kolb’s backup.

The other inactives for the Cards:

— WR LaRon Byrd

— FB Reagan Maui’a

— G Senio Kelemete

— TE Jim Dray (knee)

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Some work under the lights

Posted by Darren Urban on October 1, 2012 – 7:56 pm

It was basically a walk-through tonight, which is what is expected a day after playing an NFL football game. The Cards will practice late afternoon tomorrow, and midday Wednesday before flying out for St. Louis.

The Cardinals did have an injury report, although as coach Ken Whisenhunt noted earlier today, the truth about how banged-up players like Darnell Dockett really are won’t be known until tomorrow at the earliest. And even then I am guessing Dockett and others will be game-day decisions whether they will play.

Monday’s list is long. CB Michael Adams (hamstring), TE Jim Dray (knee), TE Todd Heap (knee), RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (hip) and LB Quentin Groves (hamstring) did not practice. Dockett (hamstring) was limited, as was LB Paris Lenon (knee), LB O’Brien Schofield (knee), FB Anthony Sherman (hamstring), QB John Skelton (ankle), G Adam Snyder (elbow) and NT Dan Williams (foot).

For the Rams, among those on the injury report were RB Steven Jackson (groin) and T Rodger Saffold (knee), both of whom sat out.

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