Revisionist History: Whiz’s arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2011 – 4:23 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

Despite the results of 2010, the Cards are still in the midst of their best stretch of football since moving to Arizona – which, of course, coincided with the hire of Ken Whisenhunt as head coach.

It came together relatively quickly. Dennis Green was fired the day after the 2006 season ended, and even though the players did their due diligence in taking the blame, ownership clearly had their thoughts on how the Cards had evolved – letting Green go, but extending the contract of GM Rod Graves and basically saying the roster was good enough with which to win, whoever the new coach was going to be.

Whisenhunt was one of the first candidates in to talk to the Cards – among the other candidates were new Panthers coach Ron Rivera and current Colts coach Jim Caldwell – and when Whiz first showed up, Bill Cowher hadn’t yet resigned (that was to come a day or so later, with Whiz as a potential replacement) and the Falcons were still considering him. By the time Russ Grimm arrived for an interview himself, Cowher had stepped down and Grimm was also a Steeler possibility.

Eventually, the Steelers moved in a different direction and Whisenhunt was brought back for a second interview, along with Mike Sherman (who has since become a college head coach). Rumors were flying that the Cards wanted Sherman, but that never happened and in fact, the Cards insisted Whisenhunt had already become the top choice. Less than two weeks after Green was fired, Whisenhunt was named the new coach and, as then-tackle Reggie Wells said, the Cards could “move on to the next phase.”

When the process started, the Cards were likely third on Whiz’s list. He was considered, after all, for the Falcons’ job and he was from the area, and he was considered for the Steelers’ job, and he had been there for six seasons already. But he insisted that after considering everything, he liked what the Cards had to offer an incoming coach. He didn’t come in boasting about potential playoff wins (like his predecessor) but a quiet confidence, saying, “we’re not trying to change the world.” His key players, part of the process in talking to Whiz ahead of time, were on board.

Then, under Whisenhunt, the Cards did some unprecedented winning, the most important aspect of the hire. And the reason that proved the decision to be the right one.

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Deuce gets creamed — and his spot back

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2010 – 12:59 pm

Deuce Lutui still has to fend off Rex Hadnot to stay the starting right guard, but Lutui is the guy for now, coach Ken Whisenhunt said. So everyone wanted to talk to Lutui after practice today, and while Deuce was holding court in front of the cameras, fellow O-lineman Jeremy Bridges nailed him in the face with a shaving cream pie.

(I think everyone should have known the “pie” was shaving cream, although Deuce admitted after, “I thought it was a cream pie until I started licking my lips.”)

It’s been a long offseason for Lutui, taking criticism from everyone because of his weight. He shrugged it off. “It’s not the first time I’ve been called fat before,” Lutui said. He insisted he was working out on his own and was thinking about other things, like working on his U.S. citizenship, so “It’s not like I was just standing in one place.”

“I came back in shape,” Lutui added. “Maybe not the weight they wanted, but I passed the condition test.”

He said he was surprised Reggie Wells was in his starting spot when he returned, but he kept working with the backups and the starters. Lutui played a lot in the preseason, deep into games unlike previous years, but he was OK with that. Now Wells has been traded and Lutui has his job back. “I just became that hungry dog, fighting to get my position back,” Lutui said, adding it helps him if he is in a constant battle to fight for his team. But he also never thought he’d be anything but a starter.

Among other things as the Cards returned to practice today:

— No injury report, because the Cards don’t need to put one out yet. Whisenhunt did say WR Larry Fitzgerald is still on pace to to return although he is working on his conditioning after missing so much time. I am guessing that won’t be an issue. RB Beanie Wells’s knee “is not 100 percent,” Whisenhunt added, and “we will see how he progresses during the week.” I still think Beanie plays.

— The Cards are slowly putting together their practice squad. None of the players reportedly claimed yesterday were here yet, but I still expect all three to show. G Tom Pestock, T Herman Johnson and WR Isaiah Williams were brought back to the practice squad, so there are five spots left. I still think CB Marshay Green is a possibility.

— Speaking of Green, Whisenhunt was asked what it was about fellow undrafted rookie CB A.J. Jefferson that kept him on the squad. Many, including me, thought Green was ahead of Jefferson. But Jefferson got the nod. It doesn’t hurt that A.J. is 6-feet, plus there were a pair of plays Whisenhunt noticed. One was Jefferson’s raw speed when he chased down a Redskins’ kick returner. The other was a deep pass Jefferson defended and “didn’t panic” on, which can happen with young corners. My guess is that Jefferson will still be a project.

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As Leinart departs

Posted by Darren Urban on September 4, 2010 – 3:15 pm

The day the Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart, then-coach Dennis Green proclaimed the fact Leinart dropped to the team’s 10th overall selection as a “gift from heaven.” Then Leinart’s first two starts – close losses to the Chiefs and Bears (the Monday Night Meltdown) that Leinart should have won had the team held up – showed so much promise.

It never quite materialized, though.

Blame it on sitting behind a probable Hall of Famer. Blame it on coach Ken Whisenhunt’s arrival. Blame it on Leinart’s inability to seize the moments he was given, or the opportunities some fans think he never got. Doesn’t matter. Leinart is an ex-Cardinal now.

I do think this: If Leinart was better on the field, he’d be here. That sounds so general, but it’s true. The basic, fundamental reason Deuce Lutui is going to be starting at guard – after missing all the offseason and showing up well overweight – when Reggie Wells was traded after doing everything asked of him this summer? They think, in the end, Deuce is a better player.

They didn’t think Leinart was a better player than Derek Anderson. It was close – close enough that the other stuff comes into play, the stuff Whisenhunt declined to get into publicly Saturday and probably never will. The coach insisted no players had input in this decision (he was specifically asked about Larry Fitzgerald) and brought up again that stats aren’t everything.

Explaining some of the things he liked about rookie Max Hall – now the No. 2 QB – and Whiz noted, “There are a number of things you try to judge the quarterback position other than his completion percentage.”

Leinart couldn’t show Whisenhunt something for which he was looking. Whisenhunt likes to treat his quarterbacks like they are any other player on the team, a tight end or an inside linebacker. I’m not sure that works for Leinart. There is a reason Leinart clicks so well with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, his boss in college at USC. Leinart didn’t react well to his recent demotion, and whether you think Whisenhunt was fair to judge him on that or not, the bottom line is that Leinart should have known his coach well enough by now to know what was expected.

This wasn’t just about this preseason. Bottom line, the memory of his brief stint in Chicago last year lingered. Or the fact the Cards went through the Rams like butter in St. Louis behind Kurt Warner last season, and once Warner was concussed, the Cards suddenly couldn’t score with Leinart. There were other moments, I’m sure.

Whisenhunt insisted Saturday he thought Leinart could play. He just obviously couldn’t play for the Cardinals.

Leinart will sign somewhere else. Everyone will see whether Whisenhunt made a big mistake, or just cut his losses. In the meantime, Whiz has gone with Anderson, no sure bet, and backed him up with coaching staff favorite Hall, the rookie brimming with confidence.

“He’s not the second coming at the position,” Whisenhunt said of Hall, “but he’s done some good things. … He’s probably mad he’s not the starter. He’s definitely not afraid.”

Hall, actually, bluntly said “absolutely” the other night when I asked if he was comfortable being the backup if needed. I’m not sure that was ever an edge Leinart possessed. Maybe that could have helped. Whether Hall can translate it to success on the field, well, that too will be judged.

Leinart has already been judged, at least here. He’s not the first first-round quarterback to wash out nor will he be the last. Whisenhunt said both sides needed a fresh start. Of everything said and written in this whole saga, that is the point of which I am the most sure.

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Cody Brown among cuts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2010 – 2:03 pm

Here are the players that have been reported as cut by the Cards so far; when coach Ken Whisenhunt meets with the media at 3 p.m. a full list is expected. Keep checking back here for updates.

Obviously G Reggie Wells was dealt. LB Gerald Hayes (back) was placed on PUP, meaning he’ll miss the first six weeks. And LB Mark Washington was waived/injured:

  • TE Anthony Becht
  • LB Stevie Baggs
  • LB Monty Beisel
  • T Herman Johnson
  • T Tom Pestock
  • LB Cody Brown
  • DE Jeremy Clark
  • DE John Fletcher
  • CB Trevor Ford
  • WR Ed Gant
  • WR Mike Jones
  • WR Onrea Jones
  • CB Justin Miller
  • G Jonathan Palmer
  • FB Charles Scott
  • WR Isaiah Williams

WR Max Komar tweeted he made the team, and QB John Skelton has also made the team. Matt Leinart hasn’t gone anywhere yet. Big surprise so far is Brown, given he was a second-round pick. Obviously he is a big disappointment, since the coaches knew what they had even though he didn’t play most of last year.

The Cards still have three moves to make by tomorrow.

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Redskins aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 2, 2010 – 11:37 pm

The preseason is over. That’s always nice to say.

Where things go for the Cardinals from here, we will see. Sometime in the next day or two – the team must be shaved to a 53-man roster by 3 p.m. Arizona time Saturday – we all get to see who is in and who is out. Obviously, everyone is waiting to see what will happen with Matt Leinart. Could he still be traded, after the report that agent Tom Condon has been given permission to work one out? Could Leinart simply be released, something that multiple media outlets have speculated could happen?

Heck, could Max Hall have played his way into being Derek Anderson’s backup?

Coach Ken Whisenhunt pumped the brakes a bit on the Hall hysteria after Thursday’s game. “You have to understand this was preseason, and they weren’t doing a lot defensively,” the coach said. “Sometimes you get a little too excited about those situations.”

“But,” Whiz continued – and it was an important but – “I like the way he handled himself and I like the way he handled our team.”

Handling the team was one of the catch phrases Whiz kept bringing up when he was talking earlier in the preseason about Anderson and Leinart. Hall was impressive Thursday, and he certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. He said “absolutely” when I asked him if he’d be comfortable being a rookie backup. I don’t doubt it.

— That, of course, means Leinart would be moved. I’m not sure he can be traded, not with a contract that would force a team to play him $12 million next year. But when an agent gets permission to shop – and let’s assume that happened – it includes talks of contract restructuring usually. That could help.

— Leinart, not surprisingly, was saying nothing of substance after the game. He said a couple of times he hadn’t been thinking about his future or what will happen, and I would be willing to bet a lot that’s almost all he has been thinking about. But what else can he say right now? That he wants to play for Pete Carroll again? Of course not. So he’s right. He has to wait. But I don’t doubt that wherever he is playing, he probably hopes it isn’t Arizona.

— It sounds like Deuce Lutui is just about in a place to get back to starting. “Deuce has been playing pretty well, consistently during the preseason,” Whisenhunt said. “I haven’t been displeased with his play. That has not been the issue. The issue is obviously what we’re all well aware of.”

Lutui’s weight problems, of course.

“Once he gets out of my doghouse, I think he’ll be fine,” Whisenhunt added.

The guess is Lutui will supplant Reggie Wells sooner rather than later in the lineup.

— The Cardinals finished 3-1 in the games that don’t count, eclipsing Whiz’s win total from the previous three preseasons combined (two). “I don’t know how comfortable I am being 3-1 in preseason,” Whisenhunt quipped.

— I think Max Komar, the undrafted rookie wideout, has made this team. I wonder if Monty Beisel’s play – an interception and sack at linebacker – may have saved him. I believe this team will look hard at the waiver wire this weekend, and that the 53-man roster we get first will not be the roster than climbs on the plane to St. Louis.

— It looks like Sam Bradford has wrapped up the starting QB job for the Rams, which means Darnell Dockett will get his wish when the Cards visit St. Louis for the season opener. This defense was praying that would happen, even if Bradford may eventually turn out to be the real deal.

— Finally, Beanie Wells is OK. He could have gone back in, he said. But no reason to risk it. That’s what the fourth game of the preseason is about – minimizing risk.

And, maybe, reshuffling the quarterback depth chart.

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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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Too much, too soon from O-line?

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2010 – 12:26 pm

There was little question during the offseason the Cardinals had stockpiled good depth with their offensive linemen. If you believe Brandon Keith can play in this league — and I believe that, as do the coaches — they have a good group. But maybe everyone, at least on the outside, was expecting too much too soon.

The reality is the only person in the same spot is center Lyle Sendlein. Reggie Wells flipped from left to right guard. Levi Brown flipped from right tackle to left tackle. Alan Faneca, at left guard (and pictured below), is new to the team (if not Russ Grimm’s tactics). And Keith hasn’t played for two years other than practice. Deuce Lutui, arguably the team’s best offensive lineman by the end of last season, let his weight land him in the doghouse.

There were going to be growing pains. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said that yesterday, Brown has brought it up. There was an assumption — and I was one of the first to do it — that the summer together would allow the group to mesh well by now. But that, in addition to a lack of gameplanning at this point, has shown there is still a ways to go. I still wonder if Lutui doesn’t find his way past Wells on the depth chart by the beginning of the season, but regardless of whether it is Deuce or Reggie, the Cards’ unit may still negotiating the learning curve.

This is all so important in context of the offense. The line is crucial to everything, to running the ball to protecting the quarterback — whether it is Matt Leinart or Derek Anderson. Leinart hasn’t played well, but he was harassed Monday. I am sure the Cards want to run the ball better too. Again, none of this really matters now as long as the line works cohesively come Sept. 12 in St. Louis and forward. But it may take all of the final two-and-a-half weeks of preseason to get to that point.

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Friday before the Texans

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2010 – 9:58 am

Ahh, the preseason. Finally a game to watch, a game from which to make judgments instead of practice after practice.

But how much can be judged? That’s always the big question. Inevitably, we will be told that what we saw as media and fans wasn’t enough to know what’s what – like Matt Leinart’s bad game in Oakland in 2008 that, according to coaches, didn’t torpedo his chances to start.

But it is football. So the top five things I hope to see are:

— Leinart taking control. It’s early and Leinart’s playing time will be limited. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he’s looking for intangible things as much as tangible, like the way Leinart works the huddle. Makes sense to me. Playing quarterback is about talent, but it’s as much about making guys believe they can follow you to victories. That’s what Leinart had in college (and, I believe, what he had when he first showed up in Arizona).

And yes, I want to see how Derek Anderson performs too, but I think this week, it’s mostly about Matt.

— Toler playing well on an island. In this vanilla-type of game, Greg Toler (and the other cornerbacks) will have a chance at one-on-one coverage. It’s not the easiest baptism, but necessary. Toler needs to make a play or two and take a step forward toward a starting job that, in my opinion, the Cards need him to grab hold.

— Who makes an impact at linebacker. The coaches like what Paris Lenon has done so far. But can rookie Daryl Washington avoid some rookie mistakes? Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are givens. But can Cody Brown look as improved against another team as he has against some of the Cards’ second-stringers? What outside linebackers hoping to make the team – a Stevie Baggs, a Mark Washington, for instance – can do enough to earn further consideration?

— Who can handle the bright lights. Wide receiver Stephen Williams has played well at camp, and quarterback Max Hall has impressed (and at this point, has clearly outplayed John Skelton). But that’s just in practice. When the lights go on, the stakes change. They and a bunch of other younger guys need to prove the play can carry over.

— Deuce versus Reggie versus the whole offensive line. Can Deuce Lutui play well enough to push Reggie Wells out of the starting five? How will Alan Faneca look? Levi Brown at left tackle instead of right? Brandon Keith as starter? The Texans have a pretty decent defensive line, so the starters should get a little bit of a test.

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A week of impressions

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2010 – 10:30 am

The Cardinals are off until Monday, when they return with two practices. By then, coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistants Matt Raich, Kevin Spencer, Mike Miller and Chad Grimm will be back from Canton where they attended the induction ceremony for Russ Grimm. So too will players Alan Faneca, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, who went for both Grimm and their former Steelers coach Dick LeBeau.

By then, I’ll be back in Flagstaff too.

Anyway, it’s a good time to assess where the Cards are (although it’s only fair to note Whisenhunt’s point that you don’t want to too quickly judge anything). But remember, these are just my opinions and not absolutes, so please, no wagering.

I suppose we start with the quarterbacks. While Derek Anderson did lead the offense to the lone touchdown Saturday, I still think Leinart played a bit better during the week as a whole. And the way Whisenhunt talked about Leinart after Saturday’s work  — “I thought Matt did good” and “We just have to look at the tape and correct it and move forward” – sounded like Leinart remains in good standing. We’re not going to know until the preseason games anyway.

The battle between Max Hall and John Skelton is going to be very interesting. I don’t know if Skelton can really “catch” Hall before the regular season, given how much experience Hall had in college compared to Skelton’s experience. But Skelton’s potential is the wild card here.

For now, Tim Hightower remains running with the No. 1, but Beanie Wells has gotten reps with the starters. It truly feels like a split situation, which is probably how it will be during the season (although Beanie will end up with more carries, I am sure).

Whisenhunt isn’t necessarily going to mix and match his offensive linemen. I will be surprised if the line changes much to be honest; I think extra weight or no Deuce Lutui has looked pretty good thus far. Then again, he has been going against the “2s” a lot of the time. Deuce vs. Reggie Wells will be the battle of the preseason, but the weight thing is going to be a factor.

The Cards need some health. They are short at tight end and fullback going into the second week. Whisenhunt already said he doesn’t want to make a roster move; they need Anthony Becht and/or Jim Dray to come back.

The cornerback position is definitely one to watch. DRC is fine and we all know that. Other than that … I have said this many times before and I’ll say it again, I still think this team chases a cornerback at the end of preseason – someone released by another team — that will be in the mix.

Now, at linebacker, it may be a little different. Not having Gerald Hayes is still a concern (especially reports he will be out into September, and even then he’ll be so far behind physically). But there is a better feeling about Paris Lenon after a week of camp. We’ll see if the Cards look at bringing in an inside ‘backer on the waiver wire too.

Before I forget, Dustin Stover wants everyone to know he’s OK and was back to work both Friday afternoon and Saturday. Who is Dustin you ask? He’s the ball boy. He actually wouldn’t mind seeing video just to see what happened. And everything is good between him and Skelton. (Oh, and we have a photo too? Sorry Dustin).

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On Day 2, DRC looked darn good

Posted by Darren Urban on August 1, 2010 – 6:54 pm

The first hitting of training camp was today, even if it was inside — the Cards were driven to Walkup Skydome because of the wet fields. But that didn’t seem to stop the defense, which slowly but surely ratcheted up the physical play.

— Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was particularly sparkly, making play after play after play. He said it all started because he was battling with Larry Fitzgerald.

“It goes back to Fitz,” DRC said. “Anytime he is on that side, I am licking my lips. I am ready. If he is out there, I have to be that much better … when I am out there, I want to work. I want to make a statement it’s not going to be easy. Usually they can catch me sleeping, but this year I want to be focused on every play.”

He certainly looked that way today. He also looked like a Pro Bowler, while some of the other corners — Tru McBride and Greg Toler, for example — had their moments of weakness. Coach Ken Whisenhunt even said DRC is about 85 percent coming off his knee surgery, and fighting his way through practice is part of the rehab. If this is rehab, I am anxious to see what DRC looks like totally healthy.

— The first tussle of training camp went down between safety Rashad Johnson and tight end Stephen Spach. Spach, who got under the skin of safety Adrian Wilson last year, continues to fight to make the roster. Johnson said it was no big deal. “That’s football. It’s been a long time without pads on. The first day we had them on, it was expected someone was going to get a little excited to have them on.”

— Safety Hamza Abdullah has a sore hamstring, so he joined DL Dean Muhtadi (calf), LB Gerald Hayes (back) and LB O’Brien Schofield (knee) on the sideline. Abdullah’s injury isn’t considered serious, Whisenhunt said.

— Darnell Dockett was messing things up in the backfield. On one play, he pushed back guard Reggie Wells enough that Wells knocked down quarterback Matt Leinart. Whisenhunt said “yes” when asked if the team is considering signing Dockett to an contract extension at some point during this season. A reporter joked with the way Dockett was dominating inside, the offensive linemen might like it that Dockett get his deal sooner rather than later (ostensibly to cool Dockett down). Whisenhunt realizing a new contract won’t affect Dockett’s motor, said “With Darnell it doesn’t matter, so they’ll have to suffer with that.”

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