Thursday before the Packers (with a Fitz contract update)

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2011 – 12:04 pm

Here we are in Titletown, and what do you know, the team that plays here just won a title – and they haven’t played a home game since then. Now the Cards come to visit.

The big “news” today is Jim Trotter’s report about Larry Fitzgerald’s contract talks. Fitz says he won’t talk extension after Sept. 4, but at the same time an agreement is “not too far away.” Trotter says on his own he believes a deal will get done, which I have said all along. Since he talked to Fitz for a good 45 minutes the other day, my guess is Trotter got a good vibe (or something more concrete) from Fitzgerald.

In the meantime  …

— It will be interesting to see how the Cards use the pass rushers. Will rookie Sam Acho get some snaps on the right side? How much do they play O’Brien Schofield, knowing he needs as many reps as possible? Coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week that while he wants vets Joey Porter and Clark Haggans to play – the defense is “new” for them too – they don’t need to play as much.

— No way to know how banged up the Cards are right now, but guard Pork Chop Womack did come out of practice yesterday and had his right shoulder wrapped briefly. I expect Deuce Lutui to play regardless even with his conditioning issues, but if Womack can’t go, it probably makes it more important. As was guessed to start camp, Lutui’s story will be one of the main ones to watch.

— Whisenhunt talked about all the back-fade routes the Packers like to run and how it’s high stress on cornerbacks. It’s a good test, especially when seeing where rookie Patrick Peterson is right now in his development.

— And, this time is as good as any, here are a few of the position battles at which you can look (sticking mostly to starting jobs right now, unless something really jumps out at me):

WR – Obviously Fitz will start. Someone asked me if there was a way Early Doucet (pictured below) could beat out Andre Roberts. I don’t think there is going to be one true set No. 2. Roberts is going to get his playing time, but there will be some mixing-and-matching, I’d expect.

TE – Todd Heap and Jeff King are both going to play quite a bit, and I won’t be surprised if the starting lineup a few times includes two tight ends. But King is a very good blocker, and since that is not Heap’s strong suit, don’t be shocked if King gets this nod some of the time.

RT – I still expect Brandon Keith to be the guy here. But don’t underestimate Jeremy Bridges.

RG – Lutui can still make this quite an interesting battle between he and Rex Hadnot. But Hadnot doesn’t have too much to fear if Lutui can’t get his weight/conditioning in order.

ILB – I believe Daryl Washington will start. Paris Lenon is a good soldier who is solid and versatile. Can Stewart Bradley do enough to surpass him on the depth chart? I could see Lenon in a reserve role, able to fill in for both Washington and Bradley. It may be a moot point anyway, since I could see them using all three quite a bit.

CB –Peterson vs. Greg Toler vs. A.J. Jefferson vs. Richard Marshall. In terms of sheer numbers and lack of absolute locks, this position has to be sorted out. Toler and Jefferson remain with the first unit, but to see Peterson and Marshall there to start the season makes sense. So does, quite frankly, any combination of the four. This is why they make preseason, for  battles like this.

There are other end-of-the-roster issues to figure out, but like every year, the top 53 probably already has 45 or 46 locks before camp even begins. That may be more true this year than any other, because the chances of an undrafted guy doing enough to make anything more than the practice squad seems slim without an offseason.

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A night at Coconino

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2011 – 11:31 pm

The Cardinals held their one night practice of camp at Coconino High School. It was a little different than the ones of last season. With only a few days before the next preseason game, coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t do a live goal line session at the end. In fact, there was no tackling. The practice ended with a series of plays starting at the 10-yard line with first-and-goal, but it was tough to tell exactly what would have happened — linebacker Clark Haggans was particularly vocal in protesting where the ball was spotted.

— Linebacker Joey Porter was sitting out on a veteran’s day off. O’Brien Schofield is next on the depth chart behind Porter at ROLB, but it was rookie Sam Acho who was in Porter’s place Tuesday night. Interesting. Schofield is the guy who needs to make the big step forward as pass rusher this season. Although it might have been just to balance out the position — with Will Davis a LOLB, the Cards could go Acho-Schofield at ROLB and Haggans-Davis at LOLB.

— Tight end Stephen Spach (calf) and offensive lineman D.J. Young (knee) were also sitting out. So too was guard Deuce Lutui, for what I would expect to be a continuing conditioning issue.

— Cornerback Greg Toler made a nice interception in front of Larry Fitzgerald at the goal line, ripping the ball away from Fitz. (Fitz did make a spectacular Willie Mays-style over-the-head grab earlier in the practice, but really, that’s no surprise, not the way he makes the spectacular routine.)

— Wide receiver Isaiah Williams made a fantastic touchdown catch from John Skelton, making the grab in the back of the end zone just over the outstretched hand of cornerback Richard Marshall. Williams, who scored the game-winning touchdown in Oakland, has looked good in camp — one of many receivers that have shown well.

— One of those receivers, rookie DeMarco Sampson, pulled down a deep pass early in the practice despite good coverage by cornerback Marshay Green. Sampson needs to continue his work but he’s got a real shot to make this roster.

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Conditioning Deuce, and after practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2011 – 6:06 pm

Guard Deuce Lutui didn’t practice this afternoon. He spent the time with strength and conditioning coach John Lott, conditioning. That’s what coach Ken Whisenhunt said afterward. He didn’t once mention Lutui’s weight, but said it was an effort to get Deuce into proper condition to play football. Considering Lutui’s weight situation, however, it doesn’t seem to bode well for that battle. There is little question Lutui is a very good football player. But Whisenhunt just said when Lutui showed up the Cards wouldn’t have a lot of patience when it came to Deuce getting into shape. This may be a tangible example of that.

— The other thing noticeable at practice was a couple of nice throws by third-string quarterback Rich Bartel, passes out to the sideline that just cleared the linebacker but got to the receiver in front of the defensive back. Those are small windows. The race to make the team behind Kevin Kolb will be interesting this preseason.

— Linebacker Joey Porter looked pretty good pressuring the passer a few times, and showed up against Oakland too. He has to up his game after last season, and there have been signs of that.

— Both receiver Max Komar (groin) and tight end Todd Heap (thumb) were back doing some work.

— Don’t forget for anyone coming up Tuesday, there is a walk-through in the morning and then the full practice isn’t until 7 p.m. at Coconino High School — not NAU.

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Wednesday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2011 – 2:22 pm

Yes, we are, actually, ready for some football.

The lockout ended less than three weeks ago, yet it feels like months. That first few days of camp – and the couple of days before it – were such a whirlwind and now, suddenly, it’s the eve of the Cards’ preseason opener in Oakland.

How this game turns out is anyone’s guess. It’s always a little harder to know before that first exhibition game and now you throw in the chaos of learning everything on the fly. Whatever they do – whatever quarterback Kevin Kolb does, specifically – should be taken with a grain of salt. We’re a long way from anything counting, whether it be Kolb game-planning or defenses game-planning against him. He said he just wants to make sure he learns from whatever mistakes might happen. A fair goal.

There are plenty of players to look forward to seeing. As I have mentioned, the depth chart is going to be fluid, and coach Ken Whisenhunt made clear the last couple of days how much competition is going to be going on.

— It’ll be fascinating to see how a couple of positions filter themselves out. Greg Toler and A.J. Jefferson have been running first-team at cornerback, but – at least early – rookie Patrick Peterson looks pretty good to me. And officially, new signee Richard Marshall is third team. I just don’t see that holding steady.

— Speaking of cornerbacks, how many will the Cards eventually keep? Besides those four, there is Michael Adams to consider. The coaches like him. Here’s the thing, however. I could see five cornerbacks and four safeties, expect now there is the injury of Adrian Wilson to consider. Do you carry an extra safety with Wilson’s situation so dicey? It’s a decision that doesn’t have to be made until after the fourth preseason game, but it will be a choice that has to be made.

— So far, it’s hard not to be excited seeing what inside linebacker Stewart Bradley does in the middle there. Hopefully he can stay healthy. With so much vague with the outside linebacker spots, a trio of Bradley, Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon wouldn’t be bad.

— Quarterbacks beyond Kolb will be scrutinized too. Max Hall is not practice-squad eligible and neither is Rich Bartel. Bartel is ahead of Hall right now. They like him as a potential backup. And it will be interesting to see how John Skelton has progressed.

— Todd Heap is the sexy name at tight end, but they really like Jeff King as a blocker. As said before, the position has had a big upgrade.

— Preseason games are always a good time to look at players’ ability to win one-on-one battles. Watching young pass rushers like O’Brien Schofield try and get pressure – heck, even Joey Porter – will give everyone a better picture of where that part of the team stands.

— Safety Rashad Johnson gets his chance to show off the work he has done coming into his third year. He has always weighed in the 200-to-204-pound range, but he has much more muscle, he said, trimming his body fat from 17 percent to under eight percent.

That’s thanks to a summer at Club A-Dub, working out under Wilson’s tutelage.  “It is ironic I spent the entire summer in Scottsdale working out and doing the same type of workouts he has been doing for eight or nine years,” Johnson said, knowing he is replacing Wilson in the short-term at least. “Of course we want Adrian to be able to come back and play and help us. Whatever my role is, I will be ready, whether it is starter or nickel and dime and special teams.”

That’s enough for now. Time to stop speculating and actually watch a game.

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No depth chart surprises

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2011 – 3:36 pm

The Cardinals have released their first official depth chart of the preseason, and it contains no real surprises, especially early on in the process. Many veterans who are battling to keep starting jobs got the first nod.

Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are the starting outside linebackers. Rex Hadnot is first-team right guard above Deuce Lutui. Five rookies are running second-team: CB Patrick Peterson (behind A.J. Jefferson), RB Ryan Williams (behind Beanie), LB Sam Acho (behind Haggans), NT David Carter (behind Dan Williams) and fullback Anthony Sherman (behind Reagan Maui’a). Interestingly, Richard Marshall is listed as the third-team cornerback behind Greg Toler and Michael Adams, but again, this depth chart is going to be very fluid right now and I expect more than a few changes by the time this team gets to the end of the month and/or the regular-season opener.

At lunch today, coach Ken Whisenhunt joked that, in terms of the depth chart, “Everybody is in a battle for every spot (but) I’m leaning a little bit more toward Kevin right now after the way it’s gone, and Larry is probably pretty straight too. But there are a lot of positions up for grabs.”

Kevin and Larry are Kolb and Fitz, obviously. Let everyone else fall where they may.

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Porter realistic about situation

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2011 – 6:19 pm

Linebacker Joey Porter was scheduled to make $5.75 million this season. He was asked to restructure — take a pay cut — to stick around he did. After practice, he told reporters Kent Somers and Craig Morgan he couldn’t complain, and admitted that he was more mature about the situation than he might have once been.

“You get five sacks they don’t really want to pay you $5.7 million base,” Porter said.

The Cardinals haven’t found any outside linebackers worth chasing on the open market as of now. They have hopes for O’Brien Schofield, but realistically, they still need Porter. But Porter is right, it couldn’t have been at his former salary. To Porter’s credit, he understands the place he is in these days, in the last part of his career. Plus, he still is optimistic this team can make some noise, and wants to be a part of it.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said after last season he felt part of Porter’s issue was having to play too much, which was forced after Cody Brown fizzled and was cut and Schofield took half the season to get back from his knee surgery. But at Porter’s age — he is 34 — questions will always follow such a season.

“If I had played better last year, it wouldn’t have been this situation,” Porter added.

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Sendlein comes back, and other adds

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2011 – 7:49 pm

This morning came the news G Daryn Colledge agreed to terms. Then came the Kolb trade.

Tonight, ESPN said the Cards agreed with Steelers DE Nick Eason, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter said center Lyle Sendlein has agreed to come back. And the Cards are still in on Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley. (Kent Somers reported that LB Joey Porter, who was in in the morning working out, agreed to restructure his deal, keeping him on the roster). And CB Michael Adams tweeted he was flying to Phoenix “with a smile on my face” so it sounds like he’s coming back as well.

Tomorrow at 3 p.m., all these things can be official, so I expect more news then. Probably some rookie announcements. It’s all moving pretty fast.

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A solid start for Whiz in Tahoe UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on July 15, 2011 – 4:45 pm

As the offseason comes to an end (really, it looks like it’s for real), coach Ken Whisenhunt, on one of his final weekend’s off, is taking his annual crack at the Amercian Century Championship celebrity golf tournament up in Tahoe. Whiz opened the tourney today with a score of 13 (they play modified Stableford scoring, with points for pars and birdies, etc.) which ties him for 22nd. Singer/actor Jack Wagner is leading with a 29, with former Phoenix Coyote Jeremy Roenick and former Cardinal QB Chris Chandler tied for second with 24 points. Whiz played with ex-NFL QB Trent Dilfer and race car driver Dale Jarrett today. Wonder if Dilfer offered any analysis on the Cards’ QB situation?

UPDATE: Day two, Whiz scored 17 points and his total of 30 leaves him tied for 22nd, 22 points behind leader Jack Wagner. Linebacker Joey Porter, by the way, has negative-45 points and is tied for 80th.

UPDATE TWO: Whisenhunt actually had his best round of the tourney Sunday, scoring 19 points for a three-day total of 49 and tying for 13th place with former NFL QB Billy Joe Tolliver. Jack Wagner won the tourney with 80 points.

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While we wait …

Posted by Darren Urban on July 5, 2011 – 9:48 am

The Fourth of July has passed and that time when the lockout is creeping up on the season is coming fast. Talks are ongoing, and the hope still is that training camps won’t be delayed. Like everyone else, I am sitting back, waiting and hoping. In the meantime …

— Former NFL coach Herman Edwards was on ESPN’s SportsCenter this morning talking about his top five players to watch this season. At five was Packers LB Clay Matthews. Four was Bucs QB Josh Freeman, three was Rams QB Sam Bradford and two was Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant. And his top guy to keep an eye on? Cardinals rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson. Edwards has long been a fan of Peterson. Here’s hoping Edwards is right. Funny thing, by this time we’ve usually written and talked a ton about the first-round draft pick but because of the circumstances, he remains a relative mystery for this level. Will he jump in? Is he going to take longer to assimilate to the pro game because of no offseason (another reason it seems crazy for the Cards to deal DRC)?

— Speaking of the DRC “trade” — or more specifically, Eagles QB Kevin Kolb, some interesting stuff floating out there right now in this speculation bonanza we have. There is little question the Eagles think they can get a ransom for him right now, but who knows what that means? A Seattle radio station floated last week that the Seahawks would be willing to give up a first- and third-round pick for Kolb. That would change the dynamic of the situation, certainly.

As for Kolb’s play, Adam Caplan and Greg Cosell did an in-depth breakdown of Kolb’s five starts. It’s good stuff for anyone wanting to know more about this potential QB.

— Coach Ken Whisenhunt will be back in the U.S. soon after his trip overseas to visit military troops, a journey that took him to Kuwait and over to Iraq and eventually Baghdad and allowed him to spend Fourth of July with men and women defending the very nature of the holiday. Whiz is also scheduled to return to the American Century Championship according to the tourney. That’s the celebrity golf tournament held every year at Lake Tahoe (This year, it’s July 12-17). Cardinals linebacker Joey Porter is also on the list to play this year.

Then again, you never know what could be happening football-wise. I don’t know what a new labor agreement would immediately mean for the coaches. Hope we get to find out soon.

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The free agency effect

Posted by Darren Urban on June 9, 2011 – 4:13 pm

So I was looking over this article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”

That’s usually how it goes.

The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.

Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?

  • 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
  • 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
  • 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
  • 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
  • 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
  • 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
  • 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
  • 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
  • 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely

Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).

Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.

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