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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A quarterback in the mix

Posted by Darren Urban on April 28, 2012 – 2:11 pm

The Cardinals indeed decided to go with a developmental quarterback in the draft, taking San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley — a big (6-foot-3, 232-pound) and big-armed passer who struggled with accuracy. One analysis compared him to Derek Anderson. Lindley was a four-year starter and threw for 90 touchdowns. His TD-to-INT ratio as a senior was 23-8. But he never completed more than 57 percent of his passes and that dipped to 53 percent this past year.

“A lot of that has been my footwork, which I have been working on that a ton,” Lindley said. “I am at the point where I have enough individual training where I feel I have my feet underneath me and have a good platform to throw from. In the past … I have not had great feet, and I just needed to change that up.”

Lindley did lose his best two wideouts, current Card DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown, to the NFL before 2011. And he said the receiving group was beat up from injury and academic issues, but he took responsibility for his problems. “The stuff I could have controlled is really what I didn’t do well enough,” Lindley said. “The stuff with my feet I’m talking to you guys about.”

Lindley did work with quarterback coach Steve Calhoun and former USC and San Diego State coach Ted Tollner to fix his problems. I am sure Cards QB coach John McNulty will have something to say about it.

The Cards now have the four quarterbacks they will need for training camp. Usually, coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t want to have four total when the regular season arrives — there’s just not enough reps to go around — so the likelihood is that either Lindley or Rich Bartel will be fighting for a spot, assuming John Skelton and Kevin Kolb will be around. And I figure both will be around.

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Cards bring back punter Zastudil

Posted by Darren Urban on April 4, 2012 – 11:25 am

In what really isn’t a surprise, the Cardinals and veteran punter Dave Zastudil agreed to terms on a new two-year contract Wednesday. That gets all three veteran free agent special teamers under contract — kicker Jay Feely and long snapper Mike Leach already had returned — and is a nod to the generally solid job Zastudil did last season, his first with the team. Zastudil averaged 45.2 yards a punt last season (netting 37.5 yards) on 87 boots. Zastudil battled a sore knee a chunk of the season — he had been out all of 2010 after knee surgery — but hopefully he will have recovered. It will be interesting to see if the Cards choose to bring into camp any punting competition.

The Cardinals have also had quarterback Rich Bartel sign his exclusive rights tender offer and running back Alfonso Smith will do the same today.

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Back in San Fran, Bartel gets his first

Posted by Darren Urban on November 22, 2011 – 10:32 am

Rich Bartel had been stewing about it since January, when he got in his first NFL game and had Larry Fitzgerald down the field on a double-move and couldn’t complete the bomb. He thought he was going to have a touchdown on that play.

He thought about that Sunday, when, once again, he came in in relief of John Skelton in San Francisco. This time, the quarterback was able to hook up with Fitzgerald for what was finally his first NFL touchdown pass.

“It was ironic the way it worked out,” Bartel said.

Bartel tried to savor the moment. Fitzgerald gave him the ball (Fitz is good at that; he caught and then delivered after the first NFL TD pass for ex-third-stringer Brian St. Pierre too) and in private moments with his wife, Bartel said, there is celebration. Mostly though, it’s difficult when the team has just lost, and when reality sets in that his chances are few and far between.

“Moments like that help you get through it, honestly,” Bartel said. “It’s hard, week after week, you’re not dressing, or if you are active and you look at the sheet after and you are the only player on the team that didn’t get to participate. It is tough, especially when we are having the season we are having. You want to help.”

Bartel’s story is a good one, having bounced around to a handful of organizations before sticking with Arizona and getting – albeit brief – playing time. He had an idea, as Skelton’s game went sideways Sunday, he might get chance to play for a second time this season (he didn’t do much in an appearance in Minnesota).

“You just know when things are running away a little bit,” Bartel said. “Creeps up on you like a sixth sense.”

But there has to be patience there too. The backup can’t just start warming up when he hasn’t been called upon. He was encouraging to John Skelton, but as the game slipped, he realized he needed to start getting his mind right if he did have to go in.

“I was sitting on the sideline thinking, ‘Good Lord, I wish there was a switch I could flip,’ ” Bartel said. “I was cold, wet, my lower back was stiff. It isn’t easy to just get into the flow of the game.”

Bartel will take what he can get in terms of playing time. He felt he was close to making something happen in San Francisco, and there is more to lament after a third-down pass to Early Doucet in the end zone glanced off Doucet’s hands with a little more than three minutes left, a second TD pass that could have made the end of the game a bit more interesting.

For now, he just has the one, getting the ball he expected to get since Fitz “has enough of his own.” He’ll have the ball painted to commemorate the occasion, and put it up … well, somewhere, since it’s lonesome, with Bartel’s milestone memorabilia sparse.

He plans on getting more, though.

“It won’t,” Bartel said, “be the last one.”

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Heap, Taylor inactive; Skelton backup QB

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2011 – 11:35 am

After the bye, the Cardinals have made some changes to inactives — some injury-related, some not. As expected, TE Todd Heap (hamstring) is out, after missing all week of practice. But John Skelton has been elevated on the depth chart as backup QB, with Richard Bartel inactive for the first time this season. RB Chester Taylor is also inactive, with Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling all healthy again (with Alfonso Smith). Smith was officially moved ahead of Taylor on the depth chart this week.

The other inactives for the Cards:

  • S Kerry Rhodes (foot)
  • T D’Anthony Batiste
  • TE Jim Dray (pectoral)
  • DE Ronald Talley

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Friday before the Panthers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2011 – 4:56 pm

Ken Whisenhunt admitted, with the regular-season opener just a few days away, the Cardinals can’t be ready for everything. Teams like to address specific situations in training camp and practice, but that’s when there has already been an entire offseason to install offenses and defenses – time that, thanks to the lockout, wasn’t available this year.

“We have so many (other) things we have to work on, to try and carve out time for a situation is difficult,” Whisenhunt said. “I am just hopeful we have covered the situations that will come up and if not, that’s one of the victims of this shortened offseason.”

Does that concern players? Well, to a man they acknowledge everything isn’t exactly as it would be had there been an offseason. For the most part, however, there is confidence heading into this game against the Panthers.

“You know coaches — coaches are coaches,” running back Beanie Wells said with a smile. “They want to get everything in. And that’s a lot. We have put in a lot. There are still a few more things to fine tune. But I think we have done a good job with the things we were able to get together, and being successful when doing it.”

— Speaking of installing the playbook, this is new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s take on where the defense stands. “We weren’t able to put everything in that we wanted to put in,” he said. “We have enough in to pressure people. It’s not the full package yet, but we will get it in.”

— Quarterback Kevin Kolb has talked about his butterflies before moments before, but he downplayed it to a point this week. He wanted to focus on his start against Green Bay to open the season last year – after he had been named Eagles starter – and using what he learned this week.

“I think the one thing I did (last year) was I over-thought a lot of things, trying to over-think their looks and watching maybe too much film,” Kolb said. “There’s a fine line between still playing the game and being prepared, and I want to make sure I find that line.”

— Whisenhunt remains coy on who his No. 2 quarterback will be. Given how much time John Skelton has missed or been limited with – along with how well Rich Bartel played in the preseason – I’d think it’d be Bartel this week. But Whiz noted that whatever happens this week doesn’t mean it’s all year, and that’s something to keep in mind too. Regardless, isn’t everyone hoping Kolb doesn’t give any reason for the No. 2 to be needed?

— Speaking of the No. 2 QB, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he will only have two QBs active Sunday. Panthers reporters believe Derek Anderson will get the nod over Jimmy Clausen to back up Cam Newton.

— Looking for something to do pregame? If you like video games, check out the Pros vs. Joes gaming RV (presented by U-Haul) for a chance to match up or with current troops or wounded soldiers. It’ll be out on the Great Lawn (some Cardinals players will take part in Pros vs. Joes next week at the team complex).

— It’ll be up to the off return man to let the kickoff returner – LaRod Stephens-Howling, unless something weird happens – to decide if the kickoff should be returned in this new era of closer kickoffs, Whiz said. It’s based on the arc of the kick and where the coverage team is when the ball comes down. You hope the Hyphen gets a chance. Watching Thursday night and Packer Randall Cobb, the big kick return is still alive and, as always, thrilling.

— Opening day is always exciting. That the 10th anniversary of 9/11 coincides, I mean, the emotions should be pretty intense.

— A few things I am looking forward to seeing: How Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson hold up at cornerback, how Adrian Wilson looks in his return, how much the Cards feed Beanie Wells. Maybe how Newton looks, especially against the firezone blitz that should make every defensive snap exciting for the Cards. And of course, I want to see Kolb.

We’re back to football, everyone.

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Peterson enters season as starter

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2011 – 10:37 am

For most of training camp, a debate among the Cards’ depth chart was whether rookie and No. 1 pick Patrick Peterson would start the opening game. He was behind Greg Toler and A.J. Jefferson, and, all things staying the same, I think Peterson would have come off the bench in the beginning.

But obviously all things didn’t stay the same. Toler got injured and is out for the season. So Peterson has now been elevated — above veteran Richard Marshall — to the starting lineup. He was there in the preseason finale and he is there again today when the Cards officially released the first depth chart of the season. Peterson is a starter at right cornerback, ahead of Marshall and newcomer Crezdon Butler. Jefferson is the left-side starter in front of Michael Adams and the other newcomer, Korey Lindsey. (Peterson is also listed as the No. 1 punt returner.)

The rest of the depth chart remains the same as it has through training camp. Rex Hadnot is the right guard, ahead of Deuce Lutui. And Paris Lenon, who has just impressed coaches time and time again since he arrived last year, remains a starter at inside linebacker ahead of Stewart Bradley. John Skelton is still listed as the No. 2 QB, ahead of Rich Bartel.

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Broncos aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 1, 2011 – 11:37 pm

It will mean nothing in the official statistics of the NFL, or in all likelihood, with the Cards’ roster decisions. Undrafted rookie running  back William Powell — cut a few days into camp, mind you, and brought back only because Ryan Williams was lost for the season — had 29 carries Thursday night against Denver in a stat line that crystallizes what the fourth preseason game is all about. Powell gained just 60 yards, and he actually had six more carries than he did in his entire (JC-shortened two-year) stint at Kansas State in college.

More carries in one game than two years in college? “I’m awake now,” Powell said. “All them carries, I am wide awake. I wanted to be out there as much as possible, get as many carries as I can, show my talent and quickness and put as much on tape as I could.”

The Cardinals did what they needed to get out of the preseason. No major injuries. A win. Some nice plays (although the Broncos didn’t play their starters and clearly are hurting in the depth category). Coach Ken Whisenhunt has a press conference tomorrow at 2 p.m., and I expect most, if not all, the Cards’ cuts to be announced. That’s how it has worked on Fridays in the past under Whiz.

— Guard Deuce Lutui was still playing late in the fourth quarter. It’s not a shock, given his battle of the bulge. “When you get down to the last preseason game, you don’t have a lot of offensive linemen,” Whisenhunt said. “This was a game he had to show us something. It’s been a battle the whole time and we knew the whole time he needed to lose weight in order to play like we thought he could play. It will be good to look at the tape and see where he is.”

— Rookie defensive lineman David Carter, who had been playing backup nose tackle most of camp, spent a good chunk of time at defensive end Thursday. “We are trying to push him, see what he can do,” Whisenhunt said. “No question he has had an outstanding preseason. The more things you can do, the better value you have on game day.”

— It will be interesting to see if the left pectoral strain of tight end Jim Dray impacts the decision on the roster, assuming he indeed was battling Stephen Spach for a spot. Speaking of battles, Reagan Maui’a continues to show up at fullback. I still think Anthony Sherman makes the team, but Maui’a has made it a very difficult choice.

— Safety Hamza Abdullah I think has made the team, but he made a couple of big hits out there. Don’t confuse him as just the nice-guy-who-visits-the-President. “You have to let them know you’re out there,” he said.

— The Cards watched the Broncos miss a field goal despite only having, after a couple guys sprinted off the field thinking they weren’t supposed to be out there, eight men on the field. “You know what, as I was biting my tongue as it was happening, I was thinking, ‘It’s the fourth quarter of the fourth preseason game,’ ” Whisenhunt said. (Actually it was the end of the third). “(The Broncos) didn’t know what they were doing (either). It was tough but we’ll let it slide.”

— Whatever happens with “final cuts,” this roster is going to be fluid to a point. I expect another running back. Some guys who make the roster probably shouldn’t breathe easy, since they could still be on the move.

— Finally, quarterback Rich Bartel looked impressive again. He wasn’t perfect, as he said himself, but he looked very good — again. Is he the No. 2? Is it Skelton? I think Bartel has made a strong case for himself. In all honesty, let’s hope Kevin Kolb stays healthy and the No. 2 is a moot point.

And with that, time to head home. We will have news tomorrow afternoon. And then, the regular season begins.

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Chargers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2011 – 1:41 am

You know what I thought of when I watched Kevin Kolb launch one down the field and connect perfectly with Larry Fitzgerald for that 80-yard touchdown bomb Saturday night? Not the Super Bowl catch (comon — no matter how pretty, the stakes were so dramatically different. There weren’t stakes in this game). Not even the one-time Kurt Warner-to-Fitz combo — Kurt liked to spread it around so much.

No, what I thought of was this entire last month. If we have learned anything about Kolb since he arrived it’s that he understands that a) Fitz likes the ball; b) Fitz can get the ball most of the time if it is anywhere close; and c) good things tend to happen when Fitz has the ball. We will see what happens when teams start gameplanning more to defend Fitz, but it’s hard to think that, assuming both Kolb and Fitz are healthy, Fitz is going to have anything but a monster year statistically.

Offensively, the Cards showed some pop. Beanie Wells is running as well as he did late in his rookie season. That’s a good thing, because that’s when I thought he was about to be a 1,200-yard back. The line is giving Kolb some protection. There’s a long way to go, but it’s easy to see how this team could score some points when it finally clicks — because at this point, they say they are not.

“I know we had some incompletions early, but a few of them were miscommunications,” Kolb said. “That’s going to happen … The biggest thing is starting early and then when we get in that red zone, making it count. That’s still an issue of ours going forward.”

— All this concern about stretching the field. Fitzgerald looked pretty fast on that 80-yard catch and then No. 2 Andre Roberts split the seam pretty well on that 34-yard reverse for a touchdown (shown below). “I want people to respect my speed,” Roberts said with a grin. “They call me slow. Maybe plays like that will help it out a little bit.”

— Funny how people were wondering about Patrick Peterson and his lack of impact and then he gets a Pick-6. Make no mistake, he’s a work-in-progress. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Chargers were kind of picking on him later in the half, Peterson insisted “it wasn’t pick-on-Peterson night.” Whatever the case, he is still learning. He insists he isn’t frustrated with how he is being handled. I’ll say this: He sure sounds like he has the perfect attitude. At some point — sooner rather than later — he is going to be a star. I really believe that.

— The Cards may need him sooner, depending on how bad the sprain is of starter Greg Toler. That could hurt in the short-term, and just ratchets up the importance of how A.J. Jefferson has played.

— I still think Dan Williams will be the starting nose tackle. But rookie David Carter is going to push for that job. Both have to play anyway. Whiz said Carter got cut blocked on Ryan Mathews’ 48-yard run and he has to find a way to plug the middle. But overall Carter is making a strong push. At this rate, he will be the pleasant surprise of camp.

— Speaking of making pushes, Rich Bartel is pushing John Skelton as backup QB. Bartel talked the other day about seizing opportunity. Then he completes 8-of-10 passes and tosses a TD. Save for that one bad INT in Green Bay, he seems to have made every other decision the right way this preseason.

— Kolb threw a block on Roberts’ run. I’m not sure that’s a smart thing. The coaches don’t think so, apparently. “My job is what I call ‘Push and pester,’ ” Kolb said. “I’m just trying to get in the way of somebody.” Just, please, stay safe when doing it.

— Peterson looked good on a punt return. Whiz said PP was back there because Roberts has a sore thumb. The way Peterson runs them back, it may be hard to not have him back there, even if Roberts’ thumb is golden.

— Ben Graham was the only Card to punt. He sure seemed to respond well to the signing of Dave Zastudil. Graham averaged 41.3 yards on four punts, dropping three inside the San Diego 20 and netting 48 yards on his other kick. He’s not going anywhere if he performs like that.

— Would’ve liked to see running back Alfonso Smith. Hamstring soreness kept him out. I’ll be curious to know if he can play in the fourth game at all.

OK, it’s late — very late — and I’m tired. Time to wrap this up. Short week before the Broncos come in Thursday. First cuts — from 90 to 80 — have to be done by Tuesday. I’d expect Monday. Then the final cut to 53 comes next weekend sometime. It will be interesting.

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Housler, Sampson sitting vs. San Diego

Posted by Darren Urban on August 27, 2011 – 5:35 pm

Tight end Rob Housler (groin) and wide receiver DeMarco Sampson (hamstring), a pair of rookies who have impressed early, will not play tonight in the third preseason game against San Diego. Both got hurt during practice this past week. Quarterback John Skelton (ankle) also is sitting out, setting the stage for Rich Bartel to be the backup and possible playing time for newcomer Brodie Croyle.

Linebacker Brandon Sharpe (hamstring), safety Adrian Wilson (biceps) and cornerback Michael Adams (knee) are also sitting out for the Cards.

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