After the Red-White and the first week

Posted by Darren Urban on August 7, 2010 – 12:38 pm

The Cardinals are done with the first week of training camp, culminating in this dreary day in Flagstaff where the rain shoved everyone inside the Skydome for the Red-White practice. The crowd was estimated at somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000, a nice turnout anyway and especially considering the weather. So takeways:

— Rookie WR Stephen Williams shined again (more on that in my notebook later). I know it’s early and I know we have to see him in games, but right now, I say he makes this team, with third-round WR Andre Roberts, to team with veterans Larry Fitzgerald, Early Doucet and Steve Breaston.

— Doucet is dinged again. He sat out Saturday with an abdominal strain that coach Ken Whisenhunt said not a big deal. Doucet had not done much the last couple of days.

— It was Beanie Wells’ 22nd birthday. For a present, the defense got him stuffed at the goal line on the last play of the workout, with safety Matt Ware leaping into the gap and hitting Beanie as Beanie tried to leap over the pile of bodies. “It’s a pride thing,” Ware said. “You want to show your manhood.”

— Speaking of the defense, a few of them waved their arms to get the crowd riled up at the end. “I can’t ’t recall a practice where I saw the defense getting the crowd up like they did,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. Maybe it was to be expected though. Said Ware, “(The quarterbacks) get cheered for throwing balls in the trash can, and we tag them off (instead of tackling) and they still run for touchdowns. Sometimes we get annoyed with that. Today, we got the crowd into it a little bit.”

— Overall, there were a bunch of drops or near-misses from receivers, in both drills and the controlled scrimmage. Even Williams dropped one early in the practice.

— CB Greg Toler looked better, although he was beat deep by Breaston on a pass that was simply overthrown by QB Matt Leinart. Even though it landed incomplete, Toler did a penalty of push-ups on the sideline after.

— Whisenhunt said Leinart “did good,” blaming some issues on protection problems. To the naked eye, it wasn’t Leinart’s finest hour. He didn’t get into the end zone (Derek Anderson’s pass to Williams for a 10-yard score was the lone touchdown), threw one interception to Toler on an underthrown jump ball to Fitz and had another interception dropped by CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Anderson played better. Whisenhunt said the Cards just need to correct mistakes and move forward.

— QB Max Hall looked better than John Skelton, to be expected given Hall’s college polish compared to Skelton.

— Leinart did have a two-yard TD run (shown below) but it was called back because of holding.

— The Cards are now off until practice Monday morning.

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A night of thrills and chills

Posted by Darren Urban on August 4, 2010 – 10:09 pm

The Cardinals had their first night practice, and it had moments of ooohs and aaahs. And not necessarily good ones. And it ended with a flourish.

The goal-line stand at the end was full of emotion (the defense dominated) but the Cardinals got a scare when tight end Ben Patrick went down after a catch and had cornerback Greg Toler fall over him. Patrick was writhing in pain grabbing at his left knee. Not a good sign, especially on artificial turf (albeit nice field turf). Patrick was helped off limping, and by the end of the practice, he was standing on his own, even if he was walking gingerly. Officially, Patrick has a sprained left knee and has an MRI scheduled.

It was a night that otherwise highlighted the defense. Three times the “D” ran safety blitzes — once each by Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes and Matt Ware — that would have ended with sacks. Darnell Dockett blew up one play where he stoned Tim Hightower. And in the live goal line at the end, the first team defense had a sack, a fumble recovery and jammed up running back Tim Hightower on three plays at the 3-yard line.

I’ll have more about the intensity of this camp so far in a notebook I’ll post in the next hour.

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Expiring minds want to know

Posted by Darren Urban on June 30, 2010 – 10:02 am

If the NBA has the Summer of 2010, the NFL – right now – is staring at the Summer of 2011.

The lack of a new collective bargaining agreement and the possibility of a work stoppage after the 2010 season has slowed the talk of contract extensions throughout the league. Judgments aside, that’s just a fact. Teams and players don’t know what free agency will look like next March (or later; until a new CBA is put in place, there will be no free agency movement). It’ll affect every team around the league. That is also a fact.

Closer to home, though, it looks like it’ll make for one, um, let’s say interesting offseason for the Cardinals. Here are the key players on the team right now who are not under contract past 2010 and are scheduled to have their contracts expire after this season:

  • P Ben Graham
  • WR Steve Breaston
  • S Matt Ware
  • CB Michael Adams
  • RB Jason Wright
  • RB Tim Hightower
  • LB Monty Beisel
  • C Lyle Sendlein
  • G Alan Faneca
  • T Brandon Keith
  • G Reggie Wells
  • G Deuce Lutui
  • DT Alan Branch
  • WR Early Doucet
  • TE Anthony Becht
  • TE Ben Patrick
  • DE Kenny Iwebema
  • DT Bryan Robinson
  • DT Gabe Watson

Obviously, some players are more important that others. Some may not even make the roster this season. And some figure to be still under restricted FA status next season even with a new CBA (guys like Doucet, Keith and Iwebema, for instance). But again, you don’t know how it turns out. That also doesn’t include three major key players who, while all under contract through 2011, will need extensions by next offseason to make sure they stay in Arizona: WR Larry Fitzgerald, DL Darnell Dockett and (assuming he plays as the Cards hope) QB Matt Leinart.

It’s quite the list. I find it hard to believe, if there is a delay in free agency that there won’t be some short moratorium to let teams get their FA ducks in a row before the market is flooded with UFAs. But you never know.

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Calling plays and OTA bakery

Posted by Darren Urban on June 3, 2010 – 1:23 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt certainly noticed the spike in temperature Thursday: “We went from pre-heat to bake,” he joked. But he did say he was impressed with his team bringing up its level of play during the 11-on-11 session despite it all.

He also talked a little bit about his job of playcalling, quipping, “What I took away from last season was I can’t let Russ (Grimm) and Mike (Miller) call all those bad plays.”

“You lose a little touch with that when you are not involved with the playcalling,” he said. “There is a lot going on on game days, and it was nice to get back into that routine. It’s fun when you (call plays). You have to put a lot of work into it and a lot of preparation, and we have had guys here that have been good in helping with that.

“I enjoyed it last year, obviously because of some of the games where we were productive offensively. You think back to Chicago, you think back of the first half against Houston, even Green Bay, that’s rewarding. … It makes you feel like you contributed. And it is a rush. It’s as close as you can get to playing and being back on the field.”

Among other tidbits:

— Whisenhunt noted CB Trumaine McBride has “shown up” in offseason work and will be in the mix at the position.

–Speaking of defensive backs, safety Hamza Abdullah was active Thursday, making two interceptions, dropping a third and making a nice play to break up a pass to Andre Roberts. Abdullah was signed late last season when Antrel Rolle was banged up and Matt Ware was already on IR, and was forced to play a lot when he probably wasn’t ready, given his short shelf life on the roster. “It’s difficult anytime a guy comes in late in the season and he was thrown to the wolves like he was,” Whisenhunt said. “I respected the way he worked. There were no excuses. But he has stepped it up. It makes you think he has a chance to contribute to our team and I think, because of the way he came in and worked, you pull for him.”

— Injury update: G Rex Hadnot was on the bike after tweaking his knee Wednesday, but Whisenhunt said the injury wasn’t serious and Hadnot may return next week. The same goes for LB Gerald Hayes (back), who Whisenhunt said wanted to work out today but was kept out. Hayes will try it next week. “He’s made dramatic improvement.” DL Alan Branch has also been sitting with his back. Later, on the subject of injuries, Whisenhunt smiled and said, “I think they’re all out for the game this weekend.”

— WR Larry Fitzgerald, as he is prone to do, chucked a pass at me after making one of his own in early drills. Fortunately, I caught it. The Republic’s Kent Somers wasn’t as lucky, reaching up with one hand (Kent was holding his notepad in the other) and having a Fitz pass bounce off, leading to this exchange:

Fitz: “Comon, Kent!”

Kent: “I only had one hand!”

Fitz: “I catch it with one hand all the time.”

Kent” “But you can’t write.”

Fitz: “I wrote my paper for the University of Phoenix last night!”

Fitz is always thinking on his feet.

— DRC cut off the other side of his hair, making him look normal again (sorry, I didn’t snap a photo).

— It looks like I’ll have Steve Breaston on for a Tuesday afternoon chat next week, so keep that on the radar.

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Camaraderie through punt catching

Posted by Darren Urban on May 26, 2010 – 2:41 pm

Usually part of OTAs includes some extras at the end of random sessions — something to spice things up. Last week the offense and defense battled with sprints on the line during a third-down drill. Today, it was coach Ken Whisenhunt’s famous punt-catching fun. In the past, it’s been almost all about the linemen, trying to negotiate big bodies underneath the JUGS-jettisoned ball. But Whisenhunt switched things a bit this year, giving guys like Jason Wright, Kerry Rhodes and Beanie Wells turns. Needless to say, most balls were caught (unfortunately for Jeremy Bridges — doh!). The highlight may have been linebacker Clark Haggans, though, who has waited a year to live down his drop from last summer and was needled by Whisenhunt until he pulled down his attempt.

The whole experience certainly left most of the players smiling and in good spirits. Good news, right? “Well, it’s early,” Whisenhunt said. “There is no pressure from a game. We’re still in OTAs. Let’s get through the dog days of training camp when I am sure some of these guys are going to want to mix it up and fight and then we will talk about it. Right now, we’re undefeated and everybody is playing well. I like the chemistry of the team … and whenever you have the competition at the end of practice like we did today and you see them get excited, you like that. They want to win and that’s what is important.”

One play did stand out today that I noticed during 11-on-11. Matt Leinart threw a dart into a seam that safety Matt Ware was sitting on, arms open, waiting for an interception. Then suddenly Steve Breaston burst back on the ball, making the catch in front of a stunned Ware and sprinting upfield. It just underscores the timing needed with some of these passes.

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Ware returns on one-year deal

Posted by Darren Urban on March 31, 2010 – 9:39 am

Safety Matt Ware is finally back in the fold. He’s agreed to a one-year contract (he isn’t expected to officially sign until later this week or early next week) but given how important he had become in letting Adrian Wilson do some of the things he is good at — with Ware in the secondary, A-Dub can have some freedom near the line of scrimmage —  it was important to bring Ware back. He’s also solid on special teams and good in the locker room. His signing whittles down the number of unrestricted free agents who still might return — kicker Neil Rackers, defensive tackle Bryan Robinson, quarterback Brian St. Pierre and fullback Dan Kreider. Guard Deuce Lutui, a restricted free agent, is still expected to eventually sign his tender offer.

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Filling in the roster gaps

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2010 – 1:47 pm

With the owners’ meetings wrapping up today and the pace of free agency slowing down, it may be a good time to look at where the Cardinals’ roster stands — and where there are holes that need to be filled by the time minicamp begins April 30.

This topic crossed my mind after writing yesterday about the signing of wide receiver Darren Mougey, who may or may not pan out but certainly isn’t been seen (at least as of now) as a replacement, whether it’d be Anquan Boldin or even Jerheme Urban. He’s just one of many receivers that will be on the roster this summer. Today, the Cardinals officially have 60 61 players on the roster, leaving 19 spots to be filled by the draft/undrafted rookies (which figures to total between 14 to 16, depending) and then some free-agent spots. There are seven veterans un-signed who could still return: LB Monty Beisel, FB Dan Kreider, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware, K Neil Rackers, DT Bryan Robinson and WR Sean Morey (although I think Morey is more likely to end up in Seattle right now).

(On my 60-man count, I am including all the restricted and exclusive rights free agents who have yet to sign their tenders, because they eventually will.)

What spots need shoring up? The Cards need at least one more quarterback, and even if St. Pierre comes back, they need someone young, at least for camp. They need another receiver or two, although I am guessing whether they chase a veteran may depend on what happens in the draft. Remember, at that spot, a fourth receiver would likely need to play special teams and guys like Kevin Curtis or Torry Holt tend not to want to do such things.

The Cards definitely need to look at nose tackle, especially if Robinson doesn’t return. They need inside linebackers even if Beisel comes back (which I expect). They probably could use another young pass rusher at outside linebacker without knowing exactly what Cody Brown/Mark Washington/Stevie Baggs brings to the table. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get another cornerback — you can never have too many — and a return man is also needed if Steve Breaston is going to be the No. 2 wideout.

Numbers-wise, here is the current 61-man breakdown by position:

  • QB  2
  • RB  4
  • FB  2
  • WR  6
  • OL  11
  • TE  4
  • DL 9
  • OLB  6
  • MLB  4
  • CB  6
  • S  5
  • Specialists  2

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Signings and a new wideout

Posted by Darren Urban on March 23, 2010 – 10:27 am

Some small moves went down today. Tight end Ben Patrick and fullback Nehemiah Broughton each signed their one-year tender offers — Patrick was a restricted free agent, so he doesn’t have a chance to sign any offer sheets anywhere now — while the Cards also brought back safety Hamza Abdullah. They hadn’t tendered Abdullah, but bringing him back as depth potential isn’t a surprise, especially since Matt Ware remains unsigned.

The Cards also added a receiver to the roster, and he’s a local guy. Darren Mougey went to San Diego State but he prepped at Scottsdale Chaparral High School, which also produced center Lyle Sendlein (oh, and a certain writer too). Sendlein was a senior linebacker calling plays for the Firebirds when Mougey was a sophomore safety. Later, Mougey became Chaparral’s quarterback in leading them to a state title, and went to San Diego State as a QB. But the 6-foot-6 Mougey was eventually moved to wide receiver for his last two seasons, when he totaled 66 catches for 805 yards and seven touchdowns. He was signed by the Falcons as an undrafted rookie last year but cut before the season started.

With Anquan Boldin and Jerheme Urban gone and Sean Morey potentially leaving for Seattle, the Cards suddenly need to think about the position. The only other wideouts behind Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet are practice-squad holdovers Onrea Jones and Ed Gant.

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Now where on free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on March 22, 2010 – 4:58 pm

General manager Rod Graves is in Orlando right now for the owner’s meetings. I’m not sure exactly what happens with the Cards now in free agency — I am trying to get that answer — I wouldn’t be surprised if the plan, at least until the draft, is to chase a few of the Cards’ own un-signed guys like Bryan Robinson and then wait until after the draft to see where else the roster needs talent.

One spot the Cards will keep considering outside in free agency is kicker. Jay Feely is still in play — he finished up his visit Monday — and there remains the option of bringing back Neil Rackers. Safety Matt Ware, despite earlier reports elsewhere in the NFLverse, has not yet re-signed and I don’t get the sense that’s imminent. I still think he eventually returns. Wide receiver/special teamer Sean Morey wants to return, I believe, but he has yet to re-sign and took a visit with the Seahawks.

UPDATE: Well, I was partially on track. I heard back from Graves, who said the Cards will continue to consider free agents. But if the Cards sign players from elsewhere, they would “likely be to replace some of our own UFAs that we do not have agreements with.” That’s the category Feely would fall under, and would come into play, it would seem, if guys like Robinson, Morey, Ware, linebacker Monty Beisel, quarterback Brian St. Pierre or fullback Dan Kreider don’t return.

I think the free agency market will be very interesting post-draft. Veterans who are waiting now for bigger potential deals probably aren’t going to get them, and historically it’s even harder to get a decent deal after the draft because teams have filled up their holes with new talent that can be home-grown. What happens to Mike Gandy or Chike Okeafor, for instance (other than that they won’t be in Arizona)? And will anything change this week, after NFL owners are going to get the low-down of exactly where things stand with the impending labor problems?

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Keeping key parts

Posted by Darren Urban on March 10, 2010 – 8:54 am

Nothing is official yet, but there have been reports over the last 12 hours or so that the Cards have reached agreement to bring back safety Matt Ware and tight end Anthony Becht. Neither one is going to suddenly have the impact of, say, Karlos Dansby, but they each played a vital role last season. Becht was the blocker coach Ken Whisenhunt had long been looking for at the position, while Ware’s importance was underscored when he was hurt — his versatility frees Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson to do so many more things (and the things A-Dub is best at, like being near the line of scrimmage).

I wouldn’t be surprised to see those become official today while the Cards host other free agents and the grind of the free-agency period continues.

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