Cards go camping in Minnesota

Posted by Darren Urban on July 10, 2013 – 1:26 pm

Every year, Larry Fitzgerald holds about a month’s worth of work at home in Minnesota. There is a little bit of throwing and mostly hardcore conditioning and weightlifting, all designed to help in the “downtime” an NFL player has right before training camp. I was fortunate enough to take a trip up to visit last year (here is the story and the resulting video of that trip.) The time there is great for these guys. Hard work through noon or 1, and then everyone is usually invited daily back to Fitz’s house to hang out or go jet-skiing on the lake. I’d take that life this time of year. This year, both Fitz and new quarterback Carson Palmer talked a few times how they were going to hook up during the workouts, and Palmer, a man of his word, is indeed up in Minnesota right now.

Apparently, most of the throwers and catchers are, for that matter. Fitz will take anyone across the league who wants to come — last year, Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts and Seahawks running back Leon Washington were among the guys there when I was there — but it’s never bad when Cardinals come. This year, there are a ton of Cardinals there. Fitz put out the picture below earlier today on social media (thanks for letting me “borrow” it, Fitz). From left to right, starting in the back, it is Michael Rios, Jaron Brown, Dan Buckner (I hope, always tougher with the undrafted rookies), Tyler Shaw, QB Ryan Lindley, LaRon Byrd, Kerry Taylor, QB Carson Palmer, Michael Floyd and QB Drew Stanton. In the front, it’s Andre Roberts, Charles Hawkins, Fitz and Robert Gill. (Here is a story from a local TV station with a little video.)

It’s a huge turnout, and seems to bode well. Then again, if you are a QB and Palmer is going to be there, or you are a receiver and Fitz, Floyd and Roberts are going to be there, it’s tough to say no. Either way, I think of Bruce Arians saying when the Cards come back for camp there can’t be regression — that at worst the Cards have to come in where they left off after offseason work, and maybe even a little ahead.

It’s hard not to think that the QBs and receivers will accomplish that goal after working in Fitz’s backyard.


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Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2012 – 5:25 pm

It rained all morning at the Cardinals’ Tempe facility Friday, all the way through practice. Yes, the Cardinals open up at home Sunday, but since a team from Seattle is the opponent, maybe the precipitation was fitting. I know that personally, it felt odd to have a steady downpour in early September. It seemed to dovetail a little bit with the uncertainty around the Cards going into the season.

Even coach Ken Whisenhunt noted “there is a lot more unknown with our team,” between how the new offensive line will hold up to John Skelton as cemented starter for the first time (remember last year, when Kevin Kolb was healthy, he was put back in the lineup). But Whiz did say “I think everyone is always optimistic going into the first game,” and I think that’s true. There is going to be a sense of us-against-the-world right now in the locker room. A lot of teams go down that road (even good teams that aren’t criticized much) but the Cards can definitely find bulletin-board material if they so choose.

— Beanie Wells ended up on the injury report today with a hamstring issue. He told Kent Somers he’d play, but he is listed as questionable. Interestingly, Wells has just missed three games in the last 30 the Cardinals have played – and each one has been against Seattle. He sat out the meaningless finale last year in UoP, but the game he missed in Seattle – because of a hamstring – ended up being crucial when the Cards lost by three and could have used their star back.

“It was frustrating for me in that particular game having to sit back and watch, not be able to help the team,” Wells said.

Veteran Chester Taylor was Wells’ replacement and couldn’t do anything. (LaRod Stephens-Howling, who had 93 yards rushing in the second Seattle game, was injured too.) Alfonso Smith did a decent job in relief, but the Cards certainly could have used Ryan Williams. If Beanie is limited or out Sunday, Williams will be there this time.

— Talking to Wells before the hamstring problem, I asked him how his recovery from his knee was. “I am getting there,” Beanie said. “I’m not going to say I am there yet, but it is definitely coming.”

— Williams, talking about his own recovery from his patella tendon issue: “I feel like I am a couple weeks away. With this injury, you are still going to feel some lingering pinching, things of that sort, I say since the Oakland game, maybe a week before, I have been really feeling like myself. I have made some moves in practice I have just been waiting to make. I feel like I used to, making cuts, and getting my football awareness, my football sense up under me.”

— Sam Rosen is doing the play by play for Fox for this game. Why does that matter? Rosen was doing the work in each of the four games Patrick Peterson returned a punt for a touchdown – and he was in the booth the last game of the year when Seattle visited, the game in which Peterson should have had a fifth TD if Seahawks punter Jon Ryan hadn’t somehow tripped him up with a fingernail or two.

— Lot of questions about this, but don’t forget: the NFL moved a handful of kickoff times this season on late games, and this is one of them. Kickoff is at 1:25 p.m., not 1:15 p.m. Make sure you check the homepage if there are ever any kickoff time questions.

— Whisenhunt said he had addressed his team before the Hall of Fame game about awareness of the replacement officials. There has not been and won’t be a follow-up. “It’s not something you talk about,” Whisenhunt said. “You don’t want to get too wrapped up in that.”

— We’ll see how rookie right tackle Bobby Massie and new left tackle D’Anthony Batiste hold up Sunday. Batiste, remember, has just four NFL starts, all at guard, all in 2007. Nothing changes in the scheme, offensive coordinator Mike Miller said, only some of the ways the Cards will protect it. The defensive front and the looks the Cards will see more or less dictates if the Cards will give one of their tackles help. “As (offensive line coach) Russ (Grimm) always says, on each play, someone is going to have a tough block,” Miller said.

— Defensive end Calais Campbell has six sacks in six career starts against the Seahawks. Why does he do so well against them? Don’t ask him. “I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know,” Campbell said, chuckling as he struggled to find a reason. “I try my hardest every time I’m out there. I don’t know how to answer that question – but I’m looking forward to seeing if I can do it again

— Campbell also led the league with nine passes batted down at the line of scrimmage last season. Wonder if 5-foot-11 Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson knows that?

— Another guy who has always killed the Seahawks has been Larry Fitzgerald, including last year’s finale when he exploded for 149 yards on nine catches and nearly single-handedly willed the Cards’ offense to a win. Fitz needs seven receptions to reach 700 in his career, and whether he gets it this week or next, he’ll be the youngest player ever to reach that mark. For his career – 16 games total – Fitz has 102 catches for 1,371 yards against Seattle, his top marks against any one franchise.

— Speaking of Wilson, defensive coordinator Ray Horton said he has the same mobility as last year’s Seattle starter, Tarvaris Jackson, but “he gets the ball out faster.” That said, Horton said he believes the Cards’ cornerbacks have more depth than last year. One thing to watch: Who the third cornerback is in the game. William Gay might start as No. 2, but based on the last couple of preseason games, the Cards may use Gay as a nickel and get rookie Jamell Fleming on the outside.

— The Cards need to be stout on the ground, which could be harder with the scrambling ability of Wilson. In the finale last year, Marshawn Lynch had 86 yards on 19 carries, and Leon Washington added 78 on seven carries. Now they have rookie Robert Turbin in the mix. Putting Wilson into uncomfortable, long passing situations starts with slowing the run game. Lynch is questionable with a back issue, but most Seattle writers are guessing he will play Sunday.

The 2012 season is on deck.

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So a Card, a Ram and a Seahawk walk into a weight room

Posted by Darren Urban on July 11, 2012 – 11:15 am

My two days at Larry Fitzgerald’s Minnesota camp are over (story coming soon), and I know many are wondering who exactly is showing up to the workouts. Obviously, it’s an ever evolving thing. Not everyone shows every day, or every week. I was told Vikings Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph were there the week before. And, oh yeah, Cards rookie Michael Floyd was there Tuesday but not Monday.

As I mentioned before, Cardinals wide receivers Andre Roberts and Stephen Williams were there, as was quarterback Rich Bartel.

But I have to admit, it was hard not to notice the mixing of the NFC West rivals. Seahawks running back Leon Washington and wide receiver Ricardo Lockette were also there, and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson came too. Rams safety Craig Dahl was also in the middle of the action. Now, there are reasons. Lockette and Jackson is a former Viking and has roots in Minnesota, as does Dahl, who was raised there. Washington doesn’t, but heard about it through his Seattle teammates and brought his wife, with the two of them hanging out at Fitz’s house afterward and taking part in water sports Fitz enjoys in the lake behind his house.

The battles for the division seemed far away.

“This group of guys is really competitive on and off the field,” Dahl said. “We come together in the summer time to reunite and push each other. On Sundays, it might be a different story.”

At one point, Fitzgerald good-naturedly tried to stop an interview with Washington (pictured below, with Fitz). Something about putting an infiltrator on the Cardinals’ website. There is plenty of trash talking about what will happen in the division later on, but that only makes sense.

“We all respect each other, we all want each other to do well,” Washington said. “When it’s the offseason, we can work together. When Sunday comes around and you match up against each other … you want your team to come out with the victory. I’ll be pulling for the Seahawks all the time.”

(Side note: There were no 49ers and I don’t believe any were expected.)

Among the others in attendance during my time there were Jacksonville receivers Laurent Robinson and Cecil Shorts, Tampa receiver Tiquan Underwood (famous for being cut by the Patriots on the eve of last year’s Super Bowl) and Vikings linebacker Everson Griffen.

“We’re a fraternity,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s only 1,600 of us.”

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Avoiding kickoff returners?

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2010 – 10:04 am

Two of the best kickoff returners in the league will match up Sunday in the Cardinals-Seahawks game. Seattle’s Leon Washington leads the NFL with 31.4 yards per return, while LaRod Stephens-Howling is sixth in average (27.9) and has the most total yardage (1,060). Each has two touchdowns. Each have emerged as dangerous weapons for teams that have not had a lot of consistent offensive success.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last week, the Giants — who hammered Seattle — simply stopped letting Washington have the ball. “They did everything they could to kick the ball away from him,” Carroll said. “Which turns out to be great field position for us. We would love for him to get the ball in his hands and let him do his thing, but if they’re going to give us great field position … I think we started at the 36 (yard line) all game and that’s a good number.”

Stephens-Howling has been wondering if — when? — that will happen to him.

“That’s another thing we talk about in the meeting room and our whole return team has to be ready for that, to adjust on the run, because if we keep being this successful, they’re not going to continue to kick to us,” Stephens-Howling said. “We’ll probably see more ‘morter kicks’ around the 25- or 30-yard-line, trying to give it to one of the bigger guys.”

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